If Robbie Williams knows one thing, it’s that he’s a star. As a former member of Take That, the British answer to New Kids on the Block, Williams was already famous in his native land before recording a single note on his own. Instead of being a vehicle to achieve fame, then, Williams’ solo career has provided him with a means to explore the ins and outs of fame itself.
On his third solo album, Sing When You’re Winning, Williams continues this pursuit with his trademark blend of egotism and self-deprecating humor, and some introspection as well. Collaborating once more with Guy Chambers, whom he calls “as much Robbie as I am,” Williams doesn’t deliver a lot of surprises musically. While the lead single, “Rock DJ,” hinted that the album might be more dance-oriented than his previous efforts, that’s not really the case. Williams and Chambers are far too wise to put all their eggs in one basket, so they include plenty of mid-tempo ballads and bouncy pop tunes.
Stylistically, this is much the same ground that Williams covered on his prior two releases. The lead track, “Let Love Be Your Energy,” even sounds somewhat like “Lazy Days,” with its lilting beat and simple optimism. Nevertheless, the song is a truly guilty pleasure, the type of perfect pop concoction that only Williams could deliver so well. The same can be said of “Kids,” Williams’ highly-publicized duet with Kylie Minogue, and the only song as heavily dance-oriented as “Rock DJ.” It’s hard not to like Ms. Loco-motion when she deadpans, “I’ve been dropping beats since Back in Black,” but Williams really steals the song when he pseudo-raps that he is “Single-handedly raising the economy / Ain’t no chance of the record company dropping me.” It’s a statement that is cocky, laughable, and absolutely true.
While Williams’ self-consciously arrogant lyrics have made for some of his best songs, he does not allow *Sing When You’re Winning* to become a mere showcase for his pop star egomania. In fact, much of the album is laced with a tinge of melancholy. “By All Means Necessary” is a spiteful indictment of a star-chaser at whom Williams snarls, “You won’t be dating a teacher / You’d rather shag a Manic Street Preacher.” On the lovely “Singing for the Lonely,” he acknowledges “The hooligan half of me / That steals from Woolworth’s / While the other lives for love” and admits “I’m so sick of people’s expectations.”
While there are many light-hearted moments on Sing When You’re Winning, one is ultimately left with the feeling that the world’s favorite lad may be growing up. It’s probably no coincidence that the last lines of the closing track, “The Road to Mandalay,” reinforce this feeling: “Save me from drowning in the sea / Beat me up on the beach / What a lovely holiday / There’s nothing funny left to say.”