Up the Duffy

CD Review: Intensive Care (EMI) by Robbie Williams

Who's this cheeky-faced chappie? Britain's beloved pop-star neurotic releases his eighth solo album. This, however, is his first without longstanding co-writer Guy Chambers – surely akin to Elton John writing without Bernie Taupin, it would seem fair to assume. As most have done...

The Ego Has Landed: The press playback for this album saw an irate Williams haranguing hacks for misinterpreting his  lyrics and accusing him of flat singing. (One argued back, on the not-unreasonable grounds that he hadn't actually written the article Williams kept berating him for.) It marked another weird chapter in the British public’s unending fascination with Williams' colourful voyage, from being the cherub-faced “fat dancer in Take That” (so said Liam Gallagher) to a stadium-filling phenomenon (via drug-addled paranoia, manic depression, binge eating, five-a-side footy and wall-to-wall shagging).

Should we 'take one and party'? Robbie solved his lack of a songwriting partner by inviting indie tune-smith Stephen Duffy on board.  Duffy is a fine composer though he specialises in understated – a quality which has always been a bit of a mystery to Williams.  Plus, theirs was an untried partnership immediately under the cosh to match Chambers' proven knack for chart-piercing ditties. Williams' solo output with his old partner largely proffered solid though obviously derivative  pop-anthem fare, but the first signs that something more interesting was in the offing with Intensive Care came with kick-off single Tripping a bouncy, left-field ska pastiche with a falsetto chorus and Indian strings. The album indeed adds subtler electronic textures and a sense of reflection to the show-stopping choruses.  Songs like King of Bloke & Bird and Make Me Pure are also melodically worthy of their place alongside anything he's done before, while also reigning in some of Williams’ smugger sentimentalising. No mean feat until you realise that the nostalgic, strumalong ballad Advertising Space has Williams comparing himself with Elvis (perhaps in their shared propensity for eating disorders).  

Critical Quibbling

"It ends up that most unusual of things, a stadium rock album with a personality of its own" -- The Guardian

"Despite the air of musical schizophrenia, 'Intensive Care' is OK in a sort of karaoke way"-- New Musical Express

-- Published by In Residence, 2005


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