[sic] Magazine

Robbie Williams – In And Out Of Consciousness

Actually, the moment you walked off stage at Knebworth. There was nowhere you could go from there, nothing that would satisfy. Since that moment – the end of an initial ten year flurry of fame and madness – Robbie Williams has slowly faded from the public consciousness: a live album and a greatest hits didn’t help the impression that Robbie was lost without his principle songwriter Guy Chambers, and the lacklustre subsequent albums, including the experiment that was ‘Rudebox’, and a complete lack of interest in touring haven’t helped.

This, merely moments after Robbie’s announcement that he was rejoining Take That, is the sound of a coffin being apathetically lowered into the grave and the onset of the mediocre, wilderness years, that Robbie may indeed never recover from. It isn’t helped by its `reverse chronological tracklist’ which attempts to cover the traditional weakness of any greatest hits set – that the quality tails off at the end as the artist runs out of ways to say the same thing again and again and again,. Here, it’s the beginning of the set (and the end) that are difficult and somewhat dull. Aside from the underwhelming bromance of ‘Shame’ which sees Robbie and long-time nemesis Gary Barlow reunited, the vast majority of the first disc is average, slightly clever, middle of the road pop music. What frustrates is that with ‘Rudebox’, and ‘She’s Madonna’, Robbie was starting to expand his musical horizons beyond Oasis b-sides and Frank Sinatra tributes, he switched to Plan B and did more of the same.

So far we’ve only covered what happened after the last Robbie Greatest Hits (2004’s ‘Greatest Hits’). Before then, and what comprises most of the back half of the first CD and all of the second, is Robbie’s Golden Years, when the untouchable king of pop bestowed gold on all of us. These songs are, by and large, brilliant capsules of hummable self-loathing, from ‘Strong’ and ‘Come Undone’ to the more sincere, and obviously literal, ‘Angels’ (Britain’s most popular funeral song, pop-pickers). By no means are these songs anything other than bland, straightforward, clever pop music that tries, and fails, to be Great Populist Art. Not that that is a bad thing. Robbie’s work is popular art, insomuch as it communicates widely and effectively to millions; but if it is Art, well, I’m unafraid to say that it isn’t great art.

This record is the sound of a coffin lid slamming shut with a whisper: Robbie’s career has petered out to a nothing, and, as evidenced by the bizarre running order, evidence that inspiration is becoming a scarce commodity in Camp Wobbie. Nonetheless, it is a summation of an body of work defiantly head-and-shoulders above the rest of his peers; and, with a domestic bliss around him, maybe Robbie need not battle his neurosis’ so publically again. What happens next is… Where Are They Now?

Robbie Williams


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