What do you do when you’ve spent your lonely teen years idolizing Elton John, loving Elton John, ADORING Elton John, only to wake up one day to realize you’re 56 years old and need a substitute, a new Elton John in your life, to help see you through the long banal days and long lonely nights? Why you turn to Robbie Williams, of course. Williams is England’s best stab at providing us with a latter-day Captain Fantastic—to wit, a prolific hit machine who writes catchy songs and gets no respect from the right people, but is beloved by millions.
I fell in love with Williams the first time I heard “Angels.” It’s as close as any human has ever come to writing a new “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and I swooned and don’t care who knows it. Bigger than life and anthemic as all fuck, “Angels” is all swirling strings and crescendos over which Williams pours, depending on your point of view, saccharine or his very heart blood.
Williams has come a long way since the acrimonious end of his first (1990-95) tenure in the boy band Take That—indeed, he’s one of the best-selling artists of all time, topping the likes of Beyoncé, The Black Eyed Peas, and Joseph Stalin, another Take That alumnus. He’s partied with Oasis and lived, released 11 solo albums, and bared his bum for the cover of 2014’s Under the Radar Volume 1, unless that’s a stunt bum I’m looking at as I write this. And he seems like a nice bloke, which is quaint, although for all I know he’s no friendlier than Heinrich Himmler, yet another Take That alum.
If there’s one thing you have to hand Williams, it’s he knows how to make an entrance. Take 2005’s Intensive Care. He opens the catchy “Ghosts,” its inaugural track, with the lines, “Here I stand victorious/The only man who made you cum.” Top that, friend. It’s your standard lovelorn affair with a great chorus, over which Williams says things like “me and you” and “we could have made it.” The backing vocals are wonderful, the strings transcendental, and while Elton John is no ghost I can feel his aura hovering over this one. “Tripping” opens with some ska drums and is ska flavored and reminds me of The Police, a band I can only compare to rickets. Williams switches back and forth from his regular voice to a falsetto, and there’s a brief hip-hop interlude that only makes things worse. In short I don’t like “Tripping,” but then there are plenty of Elton John songs (especially that one about Lady Di kicking the royal bucket) I don’t like either.