Release Date: Nov 4, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Establishing himself as the last of a particular breed, Robbie Williams makes his pop comeback on The Heavy Entertainment Show. Aptly titled, Williams is entertaining as ever, a consummate showman until the end. The album is a grab bag of ideas, darting here and there in its pursuit of a hit. However, this isn't too much of a distraction.
“Light entertainment, but on steroids” is how Robbie Williams conceived his 11th solo album, a record that reunites the singer with writer Guy Chambers, co-author of umpteen smash hits from the Robbie back catalogue, on a new label. Chambers returned for 2013’s Swings Both Ways, but that was all dicky bows and pomade. This is supposed to be a pop event – a sort of Lady Gaga reunites with RedOne situation – in which Williams redeploys the particular combination of cheek, imperiousness and schmaltz that saw him boss the late 90s and early 00s.
Robbie Williams’ return to the pop fray earlier this year was, you may have noticed, conducted with his usual hesitancy. First, he built on his escalating war of words with new neighbour Jimmy Page by promising to dig a big hole in his garden and fill it “full of shit”; next he went about offending the Russian oligarchy with the deliberately tasteless comeback single Party Like a Russian; more recently he was found telling this newspaper about his dabblings with the occult and a debilitating Minstrels addiction. It was hard not to view all this without looking across to who might reasonably be considered Williams’s heirs – the personality no-fly zone that is Olly Murs or the earnestly #RealMusic Zayn Malik – and concluding that we’re at least better off for having Williams around.
As a plain statement of intent, The Heavy Entertainment Show doesn’t lie. A most gilded production, the eleventh (!) studio album from the demure soul that is Robbie Williams boasts a veritable murderers’ row in its liner notes. It’s very much ‘go big or go home’ for the Robster here – and given his mansion is apparently haunted by the spectre of Michael Winner, you understand his desire to surround himself with studio glow – as the likes of Guy Chambers, Rufus Wainwright, The Killers, a Snow Patroller, Ed Sheeran, Gary Go, Benny Blanco and plenty more contribute in some way, shape or form.
People say that Robbie, after years of ups and downs, finally mellowed when he married and found domestic bliss. Here, he recasts the Williams household as a successor to The Osbournes. ‘Pretty Woman’ is a thumping, country-tinged hoedown and ‘Sensitive’ is slinky electro-pop that uncoils with the same confidence as ‘Kids’, his classic 2000 collaboration with Kylie Minogue.