Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Robbie Williams - In and Out of Consciousness

Next month Robbie Williams releases his second greatest hits collection In and Out of Consciousness - The Greatest Hits 1990 - 2010, a funny title considering his solo catalogue only dates back to 1996. The new 2-disc collection will feature 39 tracks, including the new single "Shame" with fellow Take That companion Gary Barlow. Along with the deluxe edition of the album--a bonus 18-track disc will act as a bonus disc; it'll feature a mix of B-sides and previously unreleased tracks. Along with the normal and deluxe editions--there will also be an ultimate edition which will include the original 2-discs, the third bonus disc and a 2-disc DVD compilation of William's 38 music videos. It's a very exhilarating package.

I didn't own a Robbie Williams album before 2006's Rudebox and his latest Reality Killed the Video Star, which I loved. I only got his 2004 greatest hits collection a couple months ago--I've been listening to that a lot recently. Celebrating this release, here's an in depth look back at his solo career spanning back almost 15 years--mostly analysing the singles (I rank his albums with ratings below). Instead of a typical discography review I've broken down the era's into sections.

Millennium: 1996 - 2000

Life thru a Lens (1997), I've Been Expecting You (1998), Sing When You're Winning (2000)

Following William's depart from boyband of 6 years Take That and before the release of his first album, Life thru a Lens--the British singer released a cover of George Michael's "Freedom," it landed William's his first solo top 3 single on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #2--it wasn't a big seller, but a pleasant debut. Interestingly, the single charted 26 spots higher than George Michael's original (his peaked at a lowly #28) The release (and more significantly, the title of the song) complimented William's departure from Take That well.

The single wasn't included on his first greatest hits collection, but you can find it on the second disc on this one. I think this was a pretty awesome cover--it's less the '90s pop of the original and more late '90s British pop/rock, softening the jaunty piano keys and backing with a rock-ish production. His dancing in the video makes me laugh--the low budget production in it reminds me of something rock band Oasis would do, the scenes where he wears the sunglasses almost make him look like a member.

Almost a year later Robbie was back--in April 1997, he re-launched his career with the rock-studded "Old Before I Die," heavily influenced by the late '90s Brit-pop sound--backed with drums and layered with a mash of electronic guitars, I particularly love the chord change in the chorus, in all--an exciting rock production. This is one of my favorites from the singer. It became a second top 3 hit for him, peaking at #2 in the UK, also landing in the top 10 in 5 other countries. It was the first of five singles to be lifted off Life thru a Lens.

The second is another favorite of mine, "Lazy Days" which was also heavily influenced by late '90s Brit-pop sound. As a single it was a pretty lukewarm affair, just managing to crack the top 10, landing at #8 and failed to make an impact anywhere else--even worse was third single "South of the Border," which I don't actually remember being a single, it wasn't included on the first greatest hits release--it only managed a #14 peak.

However, after a string of chart failures, William's turned things around with "Angels" the fourth release from Lens. In the midst of drug and alcohol addictions; with its uplifting melody, whirling orchestration and soaring strings, piano and guitars--the gripping pop ballad is often credited for saving his career, becoming William's first career highlight--scoring him his third UK top 5, peaking at #4 and even became his first respectable hit in the US, landing at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100--it's actually only 1 of his 2 singles to chart in the US (I think it's weird it wasn't a much bigger hit over there).

After "Angels," won best British single at the BRITs, Life thru the Lens kept the pace, delivering on more classic hit, the energetic "Let Me Entertain You," an exhilarating rock-fest of blaring horns, riveting drums drenched with sheets of electronic guitars--a fantastic hotel-room smashing track. I love this song. "Entertain" reached a spot higher than "Angels," peaking at #3.

Whilst Life thru the Lens delivered a handful of good singles and 2 really excellent ones, I'm not really won over as a full-length album (like the rest of his releases up to Rudebox I listened to over the course of last week and the first half of this week), but however the album proved a massive success for Williams, becoming the 58th biggest selling album in UK history.

Shortly after "Entertain," Robbie released his second album I've Been Expecting You, a largely better album than the first--the album delivered my favorite Robbie single ever, the fantastic orchestration-charged "Millennium," edged with soaring background harmonies, dizzying strings and a great downbeat bass line. The single scored William's his first UK chart topper (how "Angels" didn't get their first, I don't know) and also charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #72. The single was released as double-A-side to "It's Only Us," which was included on the re-release and this greatest hits collection.

Expecting spawned a string of great follow up singles, the great downbeat "No Regrets" and Oasis-influenced melody charged "Strong," both peaking at #4. Despite his vocal limitations, ballads seem to be William's strong suit--the next single "She's the One," emerged as another career highlight--the beautifully constructed climatic piano ballad scored the singer his second chart topper--winning Single of the Year at the BRITs. It's also recognized as British pop classic. It's great, still prefer "Millennium," though.

After trying to crack America with the release of The Ego Has Landed in 1999--a compilation of the singles so far and three new tracks, which actually proved to be a moderate success (although I don't really find it that significant to this analysis), Robbie Williams opened the new millennium with Sing When Your Winning--which proved to be a critic favorite, I liked it a lot too. Kicking off this album's era was fiery tongue-in-cheek "Rock DJ," landing Williams his third chart topper--this song used to get ridiculous airplay when I was younger; the song and its ghastly video is ingrained in my memory. It was also arguably his first worldwide hit since "Angels."

The next single is another favorite, the steamy duet with Australian singer Kylie Minogue on "Kids." I love the puncturing guitars and layered vocals in the chorus. The single missed out on the top spot, landing at #2, Robbie's 10th top 5 single and Kylie's 18th. William's scores one more major hit with the gentle melodically-shadowed piano laced ballad "Eternity," which became his fourth UK #1. It was released as a double-A-side with "The Road to Mandalay," which is also included on In and Out of Consciousness. Other singles released were "Supreme" and "Let Love Be Your Energy" which were both top 10 hits--I'm not too fond of either.

Something Beautiful: 2002 - 2004

Swing When You're Winning (2001), Escapology (2002), Greatest Hits (2004)

His first three albums successfully cemented Robbie's nack for luscious British rock, masterful pop and heart warming balladry--it was time for a change. His fourth album Swing When You're Winning, was a slightly self-indulgent set of jazz covers--my favorite was the atmospheric opener "I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen," streaming with a sea of orchestration, strings, melody and a powerful vocal performance--very Disney, funnily enough album track "Beyond the Sea" featured in Disney Pixar's Finding Nemo (2003). Swing became yet another monster hit for Robbie and landed him a Christmas #1 with "Somethin' Stupid" the unlikely collaboration with Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman.

In my opinion, Robbie William's fifth album Escapology had the best line-up of singles--with each one a winner; a nice save considering the album was a dud. The warm opening piano keys of "Feel," gives me chills every time--whilst I didn't like the album, the lyrics seemed somewhat more introspective ("Come on hold my hand, I wanna contact the living")--it's another major favorite of mine (placing itself nicely behind "Millennium," "Lazy Days," and "Let Me Entertain You"). "Feel" was a nice return to the chart--missing out on a Christmas #1 and settling for a 14th top 5 instead.

Next in line was "Come Undone," a fantastic downbeat number; trailing back to the late Oasis-influenced '90s British rock of "Old Before I Die," beautiful soaring chorus intact. I love that electronic guitar in the midsection. The single was his 6th to peak at #4. The highest charting of this era was the jaunty "Something Beautiful" backed with upbeat poignant piano keys and horns, with an awesome middle-eight section which only hit a notch higher, landing at #3.

The beautiful guitar-backed ballad "Sexed Up" wasn't a chart success, like the previous three singles, only managing to scrape the top 10 but still an awesome single nonetheless. I love the falsetto on the lyric ("...sexed up, that's what makes the difference today").

Five albums into his career, Robbie William's released his first greatest hits collection in 2004, a pretty dead-on collection on the best singles of his career so far--the collection didn't include the George Michael cover of "Freedom," his first flop "South of the Border," "Better Man," which was released in other European territories, excluding the UK, "Somethin' Stupid" and "Something Beautiful." There were versions of the collections released in other countries that featured "The Road to Mandalay." The collection was released with two new tracks, "Radio" and "Misunderstood," I didn't like either, however the former became a sixth chart topper for the singer and the latter joined an extensive string of top 10's.
Reality Killed the Video Star: 2004 - 2010

Intensive Care (2005), Rudebox (2006), Reality Killed the Video Star (2009)

In 2005 Robbie released Intensive Care his first album in 3 years. At the time, the album became his lowest selling yet, although personally I think 1.5 million in the UK alone isn't too shabby. But like the London Underground on a good day, the hits continued to roll in--the slightly alternative sounding; drum and percussion charged lead single "Trippin'," landed Robbie a #2 hit in the UK, being beaten to the top spot by British alternative rock band Arctic Monkey's "I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor."

However, shortly after--Robbie had hit a rough spot, he wouldn't have another big hit until 2009. Between now and then a series of personal and commercial downfalls would come into call (I don't know details about the personal so I can't comment) however Intensive Care didn't deliver anymore hits. The UK follow-up "Advertising Space" missed out on a top 5, settling for #8. I love the song though, layered with piano chords and blistering choruses. Chart-wise even worse was final single "Sin Sin Sin" which charted at a poor #22, his lowest charting at the time.

Intensive Care ended on sour note, but there was worse around the corner. Robbie's seventh album Rudebox was both a critical and commercial failure--although there are some that may argue that 600k isn't too bad and some critics, such as Allmusic loved the album. Personally, I really liked the album--despite being at his lowest point in life, was full of character and quirk and trying to put a Glitter spin on things isn't fair. But in anycase, the album didn't deliver any solid hits, lead single and title-track "Rudebox" had a weak peak at #4--only 2 weeks in the top 10 and a disappointing 9 weeks in the top 40. The follow-up single "Lovelight," charted four spots lower and the final UK single "She's Madonna," charted eight spots lower than that.

Every legend who goes through public downfalls, deserves a just as spectacular comeback--which is exactly what Robbie William's got in 2009. After stints in and out of rehab and whatnot, Eighth album Reality Killed the Video Star was released, delivering his first big hit in years--lead single "Bodies" debuted at #2 selling 83,000 copies, being beaten to the top by X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's "Bad Boys" which sold 104,000 more--but still a success in all. The album was a long awaited success; a big seller and the first Robbie album I ever really got into and loved. The last singles in this tale didn't fare as well, but were still his best material in years--the gorgeous balladry of "You Know Me" and "Morning Sun," peaked at #6 and #45.

Shame: 2010 -

From career highs to career lows to career highs again, Robbie William's future looks more than bright. This year he re-united with Take That--mending friendships with fellow band mate Gary Barlow; now awaiting the release of likely future chart topper "Shame," capitalizing on the mending of a friendship.

Here's a quick rank of his eight albums:

1. Reality Killed the Video Star (4.5/5)
2. I've Been Expecting You (4.5/5)
3. Swing When You're Winning (4/5)
4. Sing When You're Winning (4/5)
5. Rudebox (4/5)
6. Intensive Care (3.5/5)
7. Life thru a Lens (3/5)
8. Escapology (2/5)


ww_adh said...

What an epic run through. Nice job. Isn't a shame that Jessica Simpson's remake of "Angels" charted higher on US top 40 radio than Robbie's original? "Angels" was big during my semester in London, and I remember it as my favorite pop single from that time.

Paul said...

oh! Escapology is one of my favourite albums of his. Just love it. I've had a long history with Robbie ever since i first bought the 7" single of Do What U Like in 1991 and he instantly became my favourite. I'm so excited for his closing chapter on this stage of his career and his return to Take That! I bought the book from tesco today and it bought back so many memories. Tear!

J.Mensah said...

Adh: Thanks! :) Jessica Simpson covered angels? ¬_¬ why? I don't understand why Robbie's version wasn't a hit, aren't American's suppose to love us?

Paul: I'm sorry, Paul! I'm not that fond of Escaopolgy... but I get the feeling you wouldn't rank his albums 'cause you just plain love all of them. That's a very touching story lol!