Monday, September 11, 2006


Song: Rudebox
Artist: Robbie Williams
Album: Rudebox (single)

The first time I went to London was right around New Years, 1997. I was pretty excited as it was my first trip out of the country and had always been drawn to Europe, specifically the U.K. and just wanted to enjoy a new country and its very new (to me) culture. I was also very excited to visit some U.K. record stores and see if I could find anything new or interesting. I was disappointed to find out that music there is actually pretty expensive, and on top of the exchange rate... basically I didn't get a thing. But in every shop I went to I see posters and pictures of this guy Robbie Williams. As I consider myself pretty up on music I was surprised that I didn't know who he was, and he was everywhere. I asked my step-father's niece who he was (we had had many music conversations since we met when I was fifteen or sixteen) and she almost fell over... "Your kidding right?" She stared at me in disbelief.

I soon learned, from then on, that the music business was completely different over there, and while big international acts can be just as popular there as here, they often have different contracts, deals, etc. with different labels marketing and selling the same product. I was also introduced to the fact that we don't get everything they do and vice versa.

Robbie Williams was part of the five member boy band Take That who ruled the U.K. and European charts in the early 90's unlike anything since the Beatles in the 60's and actually sold more records than any English group since the Fab Four. Their success can be credited to the creation of The Backstreet Boys, whose debut came out a good three years after Take That started. Through their insane popularity, Robbie was always the "troubled" one and quit the band/was kicked out in 1995 to pursue a solo career. His first single was a completely faithful cover of George Michael's "Freedom," which did not do so well on the U.K. charts. He went away for a bit, partied with Oasis, and promised a more Brit-Pop style sound when his album came out.

In 1997 he released his first full length LP, "Life Through a Lens" which became a huge European hit on the strength of the singles "Lazy Days," & "Angels," He followed that in 1998 with "I've Been Expecting You" which did even better, solidifying him as a major voice in pop music, and completely overshadowed his former Take That members.

It wasn't until the spring of 1999 that Robbie was set to take on America. His success was so profound elsewhere, an American invasion was expected, especially with the success of boy bands here at that time. "The Ego Has Landed" a compilation of the "best" songs off his first two European albums was released with a huge marketing push here in the States. His Bondish single "Millennium," which was huge in the U.K., was marked as the debut single. I loved it, loved him, and loved the goofy video. America on the other hand yawned.

Robbie tried again in 2000 with "Sing When Your Winning," released simultaneously, like all huge international pop stars, both in Europe and here in the States. Despite an attention grabbing video for "Rock DJ," the first single, and the fact that it was HUGE everywhere else, America still didn't bite, and it was the last time Robbie tried his best to make it here. "Sing When Your Winning" is still my favorite of his albums as I find it the most consistently good. He released over five singles from that record abroad solidifying his appeal and commercial success.

After releasing an album of swing covers, Robbie in 2002 re-signed with E.M.I. for a reported 80 million pounds, which is more money that I can really contemplate... but a good barometer for understanding how big this guy is just about everywhere else. The first record from this deal, "Escapology" once again sold millions in Europe, and didn't here. "Escapology" was also the first Robbie album that I didn't flat out love. The amazing first single, "Feel" is one of my favorite songs of his, but the album as a whole seemed too varied, and more aimed to be a big hit rather than an actual great album. It also marked the last time Robbie would be working with his long time writing partner Guy Chambers, who had produced and co-written everything Robbie had done since the beginning.

Robbie since has teamed up with former Duran Duran member Stephen Duffy who co-wrote and produced 2005's "Intensive Care" album and now "Rudebox," set to be released in October. Despite a great first single, "Tripping," "Intensive Care" was by far the most boring of Robbie's releases. He called it his "80's album" born from his obsession with Prefab Sprout (Uh... okay) and while he did manage to have several successful singles from the album, I put it away after just a few listens. I started to think I had out-grown my Robbie.

I can't say that my concerns have subsided on the strength of this first single. It almost makes me think Robbie has lost his mind. It's a stab at early 80's new wave white-boy hip-hop, which actually never existed. I honestly thought to myself, is this a joke? when I first heard it. But my hopes are still high for Robbie to get me back in his good graces, and a look at the track titles for the album... they could be the most crazy/bizaar so far this year:

1. Rudebox
2. Viva Life On Mars
3. Lovelight
4. King Of The Bongo
5. She's Madonna
6. Keep On
7. Good Doctor
8. The Actor
9. Never Touch That Switch
10. We're The Pet Shop Boys
11. Burslem Normals
12. Kiss Me
13. The 80s
14. The 90s
15. Summertime
16. Dickhead

One of the things I have always liked about Robbie is his sense of humor and often self-deprecating wit. Because of this, and his self-knowledge of how cheesy some of the stuff he has done is, I have found him always to be a bit smarter than most contemporary pop stars. And therefore more worthy of my time. He is a bit of a mess sometimes, fighting publicly with Ginger Spice, entering rehab every once in a while, etc. He's got everything going for him as an entertainer and yet still can't seem to make America care. I believe that he has wisely decide to stop trying, and instead cater to the vast European audience that can't seem to get enough of him. Maybe down the line he'll go the Damon Albarn route and do something like The Gorillaz that will get him notice. Who knows.

In the meantime, we have "Rudebox," which really doesn't sound like anything that'll break America at this time, but overall he's bigger than Timberlake in the world, so I think he's doing alright for himself.



Josh said...

I like the B-Boys reference... But what is a "RudeBox" anyway?

WeCastMusic said...

To be honest... I have no idea. "Do the Rudebox" sounds like it's a dance, although I don't know how to do it. But I still don't know how to "Do the Jane Fonda" either.