With the help of producer/songwriters William Orbit, Mark Ronson, Jerry Meehan, Joey Negro and Soul Mekanik (plus guests as diverse as The Pet Shop Boys and Lily Allen), Robbie Williams has achieved a most radical transformation. Gone is the slick, pop-rogue of yesteryear: in his place is a new Robbie that raps, embraces club beats and (mostly) favours personal indulgence over cheesy, universal pop. Recent single "Rudebox", all electronic riddims and slack-rap vocal delivery, was just the start of this transition. The rest of Rudebox completes the remarkable overhaul with several eclectic covers - from Manu Chau's "Bongo Bong" and Lewis Taylor's underground classic "Lovelight," to subversive takes on The Human League ("Louise"), My Robot Friend ("We're The Pet Shop Boys") and Stephen Duffy ("Kiss Me") and tracks such as "Keep On", "Good Doctor" and "Dickhead", which confirm his quite bewildering quest to becoming a comedic, Staffs-accented version of The Streets.
Slightly more serious are his attempts at what he describes as 'wonky pop'. Songs like "Viva Life On Mars", his odd ode to Madonna ("She's Madonna"), the dark "The Actor" and catchy club-hit-in-waiting "Never Touch That Switch" all feature innovative production and interesting arrangements. Toward the end, we get "The 80s" and "The 90s", two more amusing "rap"-tracks that cover the singer's adolescence and his Take That years respectively; these underline the nostalgic, end-of-an-era feel of the LP. Audaciously eclectic and admirably upfront, Rudebox
is overtly a form of personal catharsis. Not all the experiments work, but they're better than you might think, and now they're off his chest it'll be interesting to see where the new Robbie Williams heads to next.--Paul Sullivan