sat 19/01/2019

CD: Robbie Williams – The Heavy Entertainment Show | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Robbie Williams – The Heavy Entertainment Show

CD: Robbie Williams – The Heavy Entertainment Show

The singer's 11th studio album is an uneven ride

Robbie's Putin on the Ritz

“My main talent is for turning trauma into something showbizzy,” said Robbie Williams in an interview to plug this, his 11th studio album. While a point immediately apparent to anyone with a passing knowledge of his work, it also speaks volumes about why, with The Heavy Entertainment Show, he has produced an album that never tries to turn his feelings into something universal, opting instead to give us a guided tour of his emotions using musical emojis.

While John Grant (who contributes one of the album’s best moments in “I Don’t Want to Hurt You”) is prepared to open wounds down to the bone in order to let the pain out, he has the storyteller’s gift for narrative. Williams, however, opts to gift-wrap his grief – one suspects – to make it easier for his fans to take. It’s always knowing, rarely raw. Always "I", always “me”. If this seems to place him at the centre of things, it really doesn’t – he’s caught in the orbit of Planet Showbiz; it dictates his moves.

That’s why, on the one hand, we get the overly wry delivery of “Hotel Crazy”, written with Rufus Wainwright, and then the cloying “Love My Life”, a song that sounds like the sort of mantra you’d repeat in a mirror every morning after therapy, not shout to millions on a comeback album. Neither succeeds in communicating real emotion, just facts about feels.

Musically, the album's all over the place. The standard edition is bookended by two songs that showcase the sort of brash, '60s lounge funk that Williams is at ease inhabiting. The Gainsbourg-sampling title track posesses all the signifiers of perky fun, and “Sensational” – as well as suggesting that someone in his camp is familiar with the eclectic genius of '60s Swedish singer Doris – is the best song he’s released in an age, all brassy stabs and thrusting chutzpah.

Too much of what is here, though, is either lumpen and misshapen or overworked to the point of collapse. The soft rock of “Mixed Signals” is so middle-of-the-road it should be protected by bollards, and “David’s Song” is painfully pedestrian – so much so, I half wish it would step out into oncoming traffic. Controversial recent single “Party Like a Russian”, meanwhile, clomps along like a rough tracing of a Gorillaz song that no one’s bothered to colour in.

You can’t help but feel there’s no reason for it to be this way. Williams can’t possibly need the money. Is this need to cover all bases, to be all things to all people, an emotional, rather than artistic choice? Perhaps if he concentrated on his obvious strengths, then we’d all be happy – especially, I suspect, him.    

@jahshabby

Robbie's caught in the orbit of Planet Showbiz – it dictates his moves

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2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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