Top positive review
on 2 April 2016
In a recent review, I was complaining about the poor state of pop music in 2006: this was before I listened to Robbie Williams's album "Rudebox". It is common nowadays to consider "Rudebox" as a mistake on the part of Williams, an ill-advised "change of direction". The accumulation of raps, foul words, beat box and all was enough to shock the traditional audience of one of Her Majesty's most beloved artist.
I beg to disagree: With "Rudebox", Robbie Williams offers an open book to his life, the few pros and the many cons attached to being Robbie WIlliams, and this is done with impeccable musical taste in a very carefully chosen variety of genres.
To manufacture "Rudebox", Williams worked with four major producers, each with a very specific role. Soul Mekanik is in charge of the most raucous, shocking tracks (the magnificently crafted "Rudebox", the country-ish "Viva life on Mars" and "Never touch that switch" a rather lame take on "Rudebox" ), William Orbit has the opposite role and he aims at maintaining some peace and harmony in the whole proceedings (Orbit is in charge of a superb cover of The Human League's "Louise" as well as of the official finale of the album, the very serene "Summertime"...even if the demons of Robbie seem to have the last word - on the hidden track...). Mark Ronson is in charge of the most "dancey" tracks of the album, the superb "Lovelight" (a cover from a song by Lewis Taylor), another cover of a very catchy song by Manu Chao ("Bongo bong") and the hilarious "Good Doctor", probably the best lyrics of the album, narrating the perils of begging the doctor for a prescription when you are a drug addict. "The Actor" is in the same line: a very strong, very dark song...
And then there are two tracks by the Pet Shop Boys - carrying the British pop flag on the album: "She's Madonna" is a well-structured, well-orchestrated pop song, but with verses that are more powerful than the chorus, a frequent problem of PSB's songs since "Miracles". And then there is the cover of a cover: "we are the Pet Shop Boys", more a less a copycat of the version that the Boys did in 2003, except that Robbie's version is bigger, badder and louder: a great success.
I think a lot of credit has to be given to the end of the album, containing three great tracks: "The 80s" - "The 90s" - "Summertime". The first two are a little diary of Robbie's life at that time (and the portrait the singer gives of himself is not particularly flattering), while "Summertime" enables the album to end softly (or so we think).
In any case, "Rudebox" is a very important album for Robbie Williams, the clear demonstration that this is a top-notch musician with very sure taste and an uncanny ability to take risks. I hope that the relative commercial failure of this album will not discourage Mr. Williams from continuing to explore new musical territories.