Robbie Williams’ love of football was sure to manifest itself on a release before long, and for his third album he took inspiration from the terraces for its title and the pitch for its cover. But it’s not the colours of his beloved Port vale the singer sports on the record’s sleeve, instead wearing blue to suit the ground used in the shot, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. A visual analogy for how far the singer had come, or a comment on how out of place he felt in an industry always obsessed with the biggest and best rather than those grafting away at lower levels?
Neither, probably – it just looks good to have a number of Robbies celebrating the winning of some cup or other. Look at it, instead, as a way of expressing the man’s wealth and acclaim. Previous album I’ve Been Expecting You might’ve been a fully warts-and-all affair, peppered with close-to-the-bone lyricism revealing an artist questioning the rights and wrongs of his chosen calling, but it was a major success. And the fame must’ve gone to his head like never before, as Sing When You’re Winning’s more bombastic moments play out like a boastful child’s my-dad’s-better-than-your-dad posturing, a brash confidence at odds with collaborator Guy Chambers’ attempts to conjure some of the magic that characterised its predecessor. Supreme comes close to matching the atmosphere of No Regrets, but blows its chances with a painfully out-of-place rap.
Elsewhere, Rock DJ throbs with an electricity capable only of powering the weakest remote control racer, for all of seven minutes – a number one it might’ve been, but much of the track’s success was thanks to its inverted-commas controversial video, which won an MTV award for its effects but found itself banned, in its original, flesh-ripping form, in many territories. Knutsford City Limits is a dull explanation of how Robbie won’t change despite the all the commendations and criticisms to come his way, all dreary beats and sluggish guitar, and Forever Texas is an unwise bar-room blues number with all the repeat-play appeal of a four-hour Billy Ray Cyrus set.
The tender mid-section tracks If It’s Hurting You and Singing For the Lonely are pleasant diversions from the bluster that surrounds them, but focus had evidently slipped for this long-player. Not that its shortcomings prevented it from being the first of Williams’ albums to truly make an international impression. --Mike Diver
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Robbie Williams Sing When You're Winning