“Rudebox” may not be the worst album of the 2006. There’s been a lot of competition for the facile and feeble, and Robbie can feel comforted by the fact that even if he releases a pile of bilge, there’s still collective works from the likes of McFly, Westlife, and Paris Hilton to surpass him in the overflowing crap churning stakes. No, Robbie deserves at least some credit for his ability to entertain, and at intermittent stages of his career he’s produced some memorable singles. If not the worst then, “Rudebox” is surely THE most bizarre, baffling and ludicrous release of 2006. It’s a Karaoke album, filled with all the influences Williams had always wanted to express, but was restrained from doing so whilst he was courting the pop end of Britpop; a time when co-writer Guy Chambers was guiding him to the top. Now we’re getting the full benefit of Robbie’s true artistic preference, which is to closely mimic the Pet Shop Boys, The Human League, Tin Tin, and provide us with some of the most banal rap ever committed to record. The fact that four of the sixteen tracks are covers proves that the creative juices aren’t flowing, and to choose several producers shows a skittish none attention to detail.
There are one or two moments when the old cheeky boy lights our life even if it’s interpreting someone else’s penmanship. Lewis Taylor’s “Starlight” is camp Scissor Sisters/George Michael pop groove that sticks with you like Disco syrup. His sad ode to his career in Take That on “90s” portrays an artist who holds more regrets than celebrations, as he castigates Gary Barlow (he’ll claim it’s not him) with the line “Met the boys in the band, one looked like a cock”.
The rest frankly, is absurd, futile and humourless. “Rudebox” takes a Sly and Robbie rhythm, with Williams’ monosyllabic Rap chunter laid over, and he sounds completely bored. There’s no emphasis in the lines, and the song sounds like he’s reading from a book. He manages to take every semblance of life and fun from Manu Chao’s “King Of Bongo” (even Lily Allen sounds half hearted). “She’s Madonna” is smug, sycophantic and stale, and the Pet Shop Boys surely have never made such a poor contribution to someone else’s work. The Human League’s “Louise” is reworked without adding anything fresh, Tin Tin’s “Kiss Me” is camped up into an 80’s Euro Disco tragedy. The insistence that “Rudebox” is showcasing the “real” Robbie Williams is confusing, because there’s nothing here other than someone else’s watered down and tepid labours.
“Rudebox” is one of the most wanton and wilful acts of self immolation you’re likely to hear in years. Sickeningly self destructive, one wonders how he would ever recover from this one.
1 Rudebox 4:45
2 Viva Life on Mars 4:50
3 Lovelight (feat. N’Dea Davenport) 4:02
4 Bongo Bong / Je ne t’aime plus (feat. Lily Allen) 4:48
5 She’s Madonna (feat. Pet Shop Boys) 4:16
6 Keep On (feat. Lily Allen) 4:18
7 Good Doctor 3:16
8 The Actor 4:06
9 Never Touch That Switch 2:46
10 Louise 4:46
11 We’re the Pet Shop Boys (feat Pet Shop Boys) 4:56
12 Burslem Normals 3:50
13 Kiss Me 3:16
14 The ’80s 4:17
15 The ’90s 5:33
16 Summertime / Dickhead (feat. Leona Naess) 10:53