Recently I was with Parvati at BBC Radio 2 to promote the upcoming MAPS concert to protect the Arctic Ocean. While we were there, we met with Robbie Williams who was there promoting his new record The Heavy Entertainment Show.
Apart from his massive singles, I must admit I have never listened to Robbie Williams’s albums. Curious about his repertoire and why he has sold over 75,000,000 records – earning him the title of one of the biggest selling artists of all time – I thought it was time that I discovered Robbie’s music beyond Angels and Millennium.
It isn’t easy being a star. Paparazzi and fans outside the station were buzzing at the hopes of seeing him. Part of the tradeoff for being in the limelight is having no privacy, putting all of life’s curves up for public consumption. You hear that on this record.
Sometimes it seems as though media commentators like to mock those in the limelight. In some ways it seems as though Robbie lightly mocks himself to fit in, and yet rebels to be different by thinking outside of the new millennium pop hit tracks.
While some critics are panning the new record as being unfocused, I find it refreshing, theatrical and fun without being stupid or cheese. It’s just the right amount of pop, rock, dance peppered with a sense of humour and incredible production. Much like a Basement Jaxx record or a Baz Luhrmann film, it is simply too broad and adventurous to be confined to some idea of being unfocused. It’s a multi-colourful, sonic exploration with something for everybody, woven together with personality.
The title track The Heavy Entertainment Show pulls no punch. It sets the tone for what Robbie is here to do and what he does so well, entertain. He says he will deliver for the ardent fan and the newcomer alike, and that he does. The song brings a brassy, big band sound with a pulsating disco bassline showing you Williams is here to throw down some great tunes -with the attitude of Sean Connery as James Bond meets Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English. It’s serious fun.
The chorus of Party like a Russian hilariously samples the string motif of “Dance of the Knights” from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Then Mixed Signals shows a more earnest and vulnerable side as Williams shares a sense of confusion in a rock-style anthem that Bon Jovi will salute. Love My Life takes you back to the world of Angels with soul-filled confidence in its affirmations and feels like it was born from tucking one’s child into bed. The life lessons continue with the daringly named Motherfucker, a hilarious look at family dysfunction with a ballsy Britpop instrumentation and message that Liam and Noel would be proud of. The song is belied by the mild timbre of Williams’s voice, where you might expect an Axl Rose-like snarl. Bruce Lee is about halfway through the album and hits you right between the ears with E.L.O.’s classic hit Don’t Bring Me Down, reminding us that Robbie is in the Heavy Entertainment ring like a heavyweight champ for the full 12 rounds (16, in fact). Hotel Crazy’s collaboration with equally creative Rufus Wainwright has dreamy, impressionistic dissonances, with regular swells of guitar distortion like waves rolling through the song, which gently resolve to glimpses of the big band sound before resuming an obsessive, fixated feel, lulling you to strange sleep.
I could go on, but I’ll leave you to discover the full breadth for yourself. It’s a musical meandering through multiple styles and moods, threaded with Williams’s earnest voice, personality and creative style. Life is never simple or easily packaged. The Heavy Entertainment Show freely displays the complexity, with a sense of fun and gratitude.
Rishi Deva is the CEO of Kupid’s Play Records. With two decades of experience in the music industry, Rishi has been nominated for numerous marketing awards and earned a Gold Record in the music industry for management.