Williams seems to be psychologically clearing the decks for a certain reunion.
Sean Egan 2010
Didn’t we have a Robbie Williams best-of just six years ago, and isn't Bodies the only memorable hit he’s had since then? Well, Rudebox was memorable, too. But not in a good way.
That’s not the point of this double-CD set, though: sandwiching all of William’s UK A sides are two new Williams/Gary Barlow collaborations and Take That’s Everything Changes. Williams seems to be psychologically clearing the decks for a certain reunion.
The sequencing is bizarre but has its own kind of logic, working backwards chronologically, with tracks from the same albums clumped together. Many of the songs are amongst the strongest chart hits of the new millennium, especially Williams’ collaborations with Guy Chambers, the insane, irrational 2002 split from whom Williams has never quite recovered from, artistically or commercially. As the familiar tunes go by, one is struck by the fact that Williams is both underrated (he’s dismissed by serious critics as a bit of an arse, but have the critical darlings made music as poignant as Angels, as self-deprecating as Strong, as haunting as Feel? Also, Williams can sing) and overrated (studded with much-loved songs this set may be, but arrangement overkill and a relentlessly inward lyrical direction also make it ultimately suffocating).
The album bumps to a very uncertain close. Not only does the backwards trajectory mean that all the great songs are followed by that banal cover of George Michael’s Freedom that Williams only recorded as an Up Yours to his old colleagues, but taking his leave with the anodyne processed pop of Everything Changes is truly somethin’ stupid. Presumably Williams is telling us that he has come home again, but in fact had he not been sacked by Take That, he would never have been motivated to prove himself with edgy, knowing music light years beyond the boyband.
As for the Barlow/Williams newies, Shame is as good as it sounds on paper, Barlow’s sumptuous melodic skills allied to a lyrical prowess we never suspected Williams had in the Take That days as the two engage in a sweetly regretful dialogue with each other about their past feuds to smooth acoustic backing. Heart and I, however, is just a throwback to Take That’s most soporific moments.
If this compilation is closing a chapter, the jury is still out on whether the next one is going to be a gripper.