Sunday, January 06, 2013

Robbie Williams stages a confident comeback

album review

Take the Crown is mostly a retreat to the safer territory of anthemic pop rock

Artist: Robbie Williams
Album: Take the Crown

Since the release of his previous solo studio album, Reality Killed the Video Star (2009), Robbie Williams has released a greatest hits compilation, made amends with Gary Barlow, reunited with Take That, made a record and an EP with the band, gotten married, and embraced fatherhood as he welcomed his daughter into the world. It would be safe to say that the last few years have been quite eventful for the singer, and it appears that these changes have done him good, as he now makes a confident return to reclaim his position atop the charts with his ninth solo album, Take the Crown.

The album showcases a musically tamer and mellower Robbie, which shouldn't exactly come as a shock considering how much flack he received for his more offbeat releases like the widely slammed Rudebox (2006). That said, some of his more recent work leading up to the new record (including his efforts with Take That) has actually been more electro- and synth-pop oriented and sonically diverse; Take the Crown, however, is mostly a retreat to the safer territory of anthemic pop rock. This isn't the Robbie of Rudebox and Progress, but the record does feel like a logical follow-up to Video Star.

The singer offers a set of confessional and self-reflecting musings through 11 songs, all but one of which he has co-written. The playful lead single (and massive hit) 'Candy' is crafted for commercial success and sees him collaborate with fellow Take That member Gary Barlow, as does the second single 'Different'; the demo of Take That's melodious 'Eight Letters', performed entirely by Robbie, also finds home as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the album. Elsewhere, Australian songwriting duo Tim Metcalfe and Flynn Francis, and producer Jacknife Lee share writing credits in varying combinations on songs such as the U2-esque 'Hunting for You' and 'Into the Silence'. Robbie teams up with Boots Ottestad to pen the perky 'Hey Wow Yeah Yeah', which despite its “boy boy boy, girl girl girl, clap your hands, clap your hands if you wanna wanna” lyrics still manages to be fun and enjoyable somehow. And the standard edition of Crown comes to a close with a charming cover of Belle Brigade's 'Losers' that features American singer Lissie who accompanies Robbie on vocals.

The compositions are well crafted and his lyrics still retain bite, but musically some of the songs seem a little middle of the road. Predominantly the album isn't adventurous, which comes as a bit of a disappointment seeing how he scored electro-pop winners with Take That on Progress and Progressed, and the disc's by-the-numbers approach makes it less exciting and less memorable.

Ultimately though, Take the Crown is a Robbie Williams album, and that's exactly what it sounds like. This is solid, albeit safe pop music meant to please the mainstream audience. The peppier tracks on the record stand out more easily and carry more commercial appeal, while the other songs offer competent pop melodies that are driven by Robbie's trademark confidence and delivery but don't offer much in the way of innovation or experimentation. The album doesn't seem particularly concerned with being crisp and modern, and isn't nearly as distinct as Rudebox (although based on the reception that record got, almost no one is going to be upset about this). It would, however, have been more interesting if Robbie had retained some of the bolder and more diverse elements that he has previously experimented with, and found a way to still incorporate them into his music instead of going back to his comfort zone. As it stands, the gradual variations in his sound here will perhaps only be noticeable to his fans; the album is similar to what he's done before, but as a fan you probably won't mind that anyway. For casual listeners, most of these songs won't be instantly memorable, and the set isn't very likely to impress his detractors.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 6th January, 2013

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