Friday, 4 November 2016

Robbie Williams – The Heavy Entertainment Show

Robbie is back with his eighth studio album, the cheekily titled ‘The Heavy Entertainment Show, a cross between a reference to his live on-stage persona and a throwback to his fan-released b-side from last year. His latest LP sees Williams once more in fine form, bringing together a solid collection of eleven pop numbers that are some of his best material on an album. With a list of producers and writers as long as your arm, ‘The Heavy Entertainment Show’ is certainly a collaborative effort – Gary Go, Stuart Price and Ed Sheeran are among those name-checked – and this probably has helped in making it a much stronger clutch of tracks.

The LP kicks off with the titular track, a catchy and well assembled opening track that really gets you in the mood for what is to come, building from a simple piano riff to an over-the-top statement of intent, packed with witty, quotable, lyrics, self-deprecation and a great mix of lead and backing vocals. With tempo and style shifts it occasionally feels like it’s a little all over the place but as a tongue-in-cheek package it’s a great opener.

The album’s lead single follows, the bombastic ‘Party Like A Russian’ that builds on a sped-up sample of Sergei Prokofiev’s famous classical piece (The Apprentice anyone?) to create a light satire on modern oligarchs combined with a chorus that packs a punch, possibly with the rhyming dictionary that Williams was using when writing it. At just a smidgen over three minutes it’s quite short for a lead cut but there’s plenty in the mix and the bouncy tempo, hooky lyrics and effects really make it, and it’s certainly an earworm. Ridiculous but catchy, it’s up there with Williams at his best.

‘Mixed Signals’, a track written by the Killers, certainly feels like it’s been taken from their ‘Day and Age’ era and this mid-tempo ballad bursts into a louder chorus that buzzes with plenty of energy. I’m not sure what’s best about the track; the power, or the Wikipedia page that suggested Eastenders’ actor Steve McFadden also co-wrote it.

Track four and second single ‘Love My Life’ is the spiritual successor to early swing single ‘Go Gentle’, imagining what future life will be like for Williams’ daughters. Though the chorus wouldn’t look out of place on one of those annoying memes that your older relatives send around Facebook its heart is in its right place and it feels like an uplifting, singable ballad about achieving in life, and fits in with Robbie’s back catalogue of stirring ballads.

Into the fresher material we get the radio friendly (*cough*) ‘Motherfucker’, that is Robbie on more comedic form, following up a song aimed at his children that’s less appropriate, summing up his family as a collection of interesting characters. The verses are so-so but the cheeky chorus is pretty funny and cool, and though the track is certainly irrelevant it’s still a fun and sparky listen.

Though sounding like the offspring of Adam and the Ant’s ‘Prince Charming’ and ELO’s ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, ‘Bruce Lee’ is perhaps the weakest of the tracks on the album. It’s loud and brash, perhaps a little too much, and lacks a focus and direction to really stand up next to the great opening quintet, but it’s not a complete right off.

With its interpolation of ‘H-A-P-P-Y’ ‘Sensitive’ harks back to the ‘Lovelight’-era of Robbie and is a foot-tapping electro-number that channels the better moments of the Rudebox album, though the fade out feels like the song runs out of steam a bit too soon.

‘David’s Song’, is the album’s contribution to a slower number and soars and falls in the right places, and ticks all the boxes for the style of song, and is likely to be a grower, but as it bursts into a guitar solo you can’t help feel it’s trying too hard to sound like ‘Angels’.

‘Pretty Woman’ is the shortest track on the album but has a foot-stomping drum and hand-clap backing and tied up with some catchy and funky lyrics makes this a great little number, that feels like the cousin of Will Smith’s ‘Switch’. Ed Sheeran’s influence certainly can be felt here and though the lyrics are perhaps a little too twee it’s all wrapped in such a catchy way many of the questionable lyrics can be forgiven. This feels like the best contender for single #3 in my opinion.

Rufus Wainwright makes another appearance after his debut on Robbie’s recent swing sequel, here on the similarly feeling ‘Hotel Crazy’ with the mid-tempo swing-swagger in place. It’s not my favourite song on the album but it has enough guts to hold your attention but as the longest track on the main album it feels overly indulgent.

Closing up the forty-minute album is the live-feeling ‘Sensational’ which wraps up with similar key notes to the opening, tying it up as if it was, indeed, a heavy entertainment show, and it’s a spunky way of closing, that bookends things well. It’s a better statement than it is a track but its place as the closer works well, with the production making it sound bigger and it’s a rising, stirring end to the main LP.

For those of you who have plumped for the deluxe edition get an impressive five bonus tracks coming in at an impressive extra twenty-one minutes. ‘When You Know’ builds a mid-tempo song over a drum machine and a timpani and is nice enough, but a little too middle-of-the-road and feels more like a bonus track. ‘Time on Earth’ fits in with the show-theme of the album whilst ‘I Don’t Want to Hurt You’ feels like a modern riff on classic song ‘No Regrets’, and is the best of the five bonus tracks thanks to its vocals, piano riff and bombastic, western-style theme, and is the only one that feels like it should have appeared on the main piece. ‘Best Intentions’ is a runner-up as the best track on the bonus piece, with some strong lyrics and a fun enough feel, with the lyrics quite personal, talking about the evolution of Robbie as a person. Closer ‘Marry Me’ is an emotive ballad that ties things up nicely at the end.

‘The Heavy Entertainment Show’ is certainly one of Robbie’s best albums and the mixture of collaborators make it feel fresh, whilst feeling quite consistent. There are a few skippable tracks on the piece but nothing I’d class as filler, and there are many tracks on it up with his best. A must buy. (8/10)

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