It could be argued that Robbie Williams’ star had waned before his reunion with Take That; making the appropriation of his Rudebox template for the boys-to-men-band’s successful return with Progress somewhat ironic.
But Take the Crown, Robbie’s first solo set since 2009’s Reality Killed the Video Star, aims to reclaim his position as one of pop’s foremost solo artists.
This ninth album opens with saxophone, revisiting the reflective tone of Robbie’s Take That stint; and, indeed, much of his previous solo material. Accompanied by stabbing synths and nostalgic lyrics, Be a Boy is an effortlessly victorious beginning.
Gospel also mines the past for inspiration: “I used to be so excited on my own,” he sings. Few people have blurred the line between self-therapy and pop success quite like Robbie, and Gospel is typically bombastic; although an unnecessary “go f*** yourself” torpedoes the track’s warm sentiments.
The presence of producer Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., Editors, Snow Patrol) demonstrates that Robbie’s search to replace Guy Chambers and Steve Power has grown less urgent and more interesting; he’d previously roped in Stephen Duffy and Mark Ronson.
Lead single Candy Girl is catchier than Velcro, although it’s unclear why anyone needs to own it – after the second listen it owns you. It’s eager to please, certainly.
Different is aimed at fans missing Angels, but it isn’t that interesting. The album comes to life, though, with All That I Want and the hypnotic Hunting for You, while Into the Silence is evocative of Joshua Tree-period U2.
Things close with a group-hug of a duet with American singer Lissie, a cover of Belle Brigade’s song Losers. But its “I don’t care about being a winner” lyric is seemingly at odds with the spirit of the album.
Despite these highlights, Take the Crown finds Robbie sounding rather too serious, rather too often. It’s safe, something of a retreat from past endeavours to a sound more suited to commercial returns in the present. Those with a penchant for slightly unhinged pop might do well to listen instead to a certain band called Take That.
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