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Robbie Williams – Swings Both Ways album review

The class clown returns to take an old school swing at his critics.

Robbie Williams

Don’t worry, it’s not still 2001 – Robbie’s just done another swing album.

Twelve years on from the success of the experimental Swing When You’re Winning, Mr Williams just can’t seem to quell the swing in him. As the most successful solo member of Take That to date, the singer seems to have settled into his role as a family man, which seems to have helped to stabilise his previously somewhat muddled style; though believing that such life events may have made him any more mature would be naïve.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Robbie seizes the opportunity to use a few tracks as a vehicle for expressing his true feelings towards the music business and all that comes with it.  The risqué No One Likes A Fat Pop Star pokes a portly finger at the harsh expectations that are still placed on artists in the industry to remain a certain size, with deliciously wicked observations including ‘pop is a place for the thin’ and ‘showbiz is a single chin game.’ The king of crass employs a big band for the epic musical accompaniment on ‘Where There’s Muck’, the seriousness of which appears in stark contrast to the surprisingly catchy uncouth chorus line.

Swings Both Ways does just what the title implies in returning to Williams’s most successful ever outing, albeit with less crooning and more jazz and blues covers such as Minnie the Moocher and Putting on the Ritz, and presenting half an album of new songs. Back-to-basics tracks co-written by Guy Chambers, such as the sweet Go Gentle, offer music to accompany those big moments in life, while a roster of collaborators, from Rufus Wainwright to the populist likes of Lily Allen and Olly Murs, help create a comfortable, genuinely enjoyable album that will be a fine background to the festive season.

To the dismay of nobody, best pal Jonathan Wilkes (who so ironically featured on Me And My Shadow) has been replaced by the likes of swoony Canadian crooner Michael Buble and instead of simply covering the classics, he’s gone for an altogether more fun approach.

Robbie Williams is the music industry’s favourite clown; a purveyor of utter silliness with underlying pathos. That he will rarely take himself or his music seriously is both his saving grace and his curse. In an industry of serious narcissists, Williams suggests it could be time to send in the clowns.

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