We have often criticised that most people who write about Robbie Williams are not real journalists. After the first few pages of "Robbie. The biography" I was quite certain that finally a `real' journalist had taken up the theme.
Smith spent several months in Stoke-on-Trent, where he investigated about Rob's past and I believe even the hard-core Rob fans will still find a lot they have not known. The highlight of the book is certainly the first half where you can meet young Robert through the eyes of many of his old friends, such as Zoë Hammond or the clique of boys he used to hang around with before he joined Take That. They all draw a very detailed and sensible picture of a young man who has never had it easy, from the start on. If you want to understand Rob's roots this is probably the best opportunity available in stores.
The chapters about Take that feature some in depth insights as well and give a good idea about Rob's personal challenges at the time. Especially the insights of his childhood friend Zoë Hammond about her friend give the reader an idea about Rob's emotional ups & downs at the time.
The book looses a bit of it's in taking when finally reaching Rob's solo-career. So far the excellence has clearly been found in the in depth research and conversation partners. While research is still well done Smith clearly lacks the latter in this part, which makes it still a nice read but mainly a press review of already known facts and incidents.
The book finds an upturn again in the last chapters about LA, where the author has also spent some time. It gives a brief insight on Rob's social and off scene life in LA as well as, obligatory, the search for Mrs Williams.
Personally I find the strengths of this book clearly in the chapters about Rob until the end of Take That, about two thirds through the book. Quite understandably it was easier to find people willing to talk about Robbie Williams ten years ago then about `today' Rob. It was a clearly articulated goal of Sean Smith to find more about Rob, not about Robbie, which I believe he was successful in big parts of the book. Especially as his sources did indeed grow up with Robbie and therefore manage to deliver an authentic picture. While the book is not free of speculation it is free of washing dirty line. Even chapters about Oasis or Nicole Appleton never go below the generally high standard. Another plus of the book is the writing style of the author that is not simple but very convenient.
A downside of the book is clearly that while Rob's youth, almost half of the book, features many new findings, this cannot be said about the more recent chapters. I would also not recommend it as a `first read'. You should have at least a broad idea of Rob's life and career before hand, which on the other hand makes it an interesting read for hard core fans though. The book is not an official biography, and while this label might be seen as a quality standard, I can image that Rob might not agree with the depth of some revelations in the book, especially about his mother's life. I'm also quite certain that Rob has not been interviewed for the book. I did not `miss' his voice but it is certainly one of the points to possibly improve.
To me this book is in the same league as "Feel" and, personally, I think it is even better written. If it wasn't for the lack of Rob himself, I would call it be the best Robbie Williams book to date.