Thursday, 5 November 2009

Robbie Williams, Reality Killed The Video Star (2009)

I've listened to this album a fair few times now, I've been trying to pin-down the effect it has on me: the 1970s melody and guitar stylings; the sticky-slushy orchestrations, a splash of film-soundtrack, a splotch of George Martin's Pepperland; the technical facility, especially on the production, coupled with a larger sense of emptiness. Williams' ego-lyrics (now with added UFO/Jesus references!) make something out of the vacuity, of course: that's the 'point' of him as a popstar, and probably also the ground of his sex-appeal, the hunk with a chunk missing in the middle of his heart. We're probably now at the point where we'd be disappointed if Williams didn't re-rehearse his It's Empty At The Top schtick. But then, listening to the two-part opener/closer 'Morning Sun' it struck me: Wings. That's what's gong on here. Wings is all through this album like the message in a stick of rock. Listen to 'Won't Do That', to 'Somewhere', to 'Starstruck', to 'Superblind', and you could be in the front row of a Williams McCartney-tribute concert. Even the slightly more modern songs ('Bodies', say) sound like Wings songs handed to 21st-century producers. So: what is Reality Killed? It's a more-melancholy-than-usual Wings album.

As to whether channelling Wings is a good thing (whether, in other words, it can ever escape the spectre of Alan Partridge enjoying himself): that's a whole other question.

I sometimes like to imagine McCartney, in the 1970s, looking around him thinking 'the Beatles were cool; I'm doing exactly what I used to do when I was in the Beatles -- so why aren't I cool any more?' It's a puzzler, it really is.


MickPuck said...

Except Paul wasn't doing "exactly what he did with The Beatles" in the 70s. No close-up competition with Lennon, no jostling for position or space on albums, no funnelling his creativity through the filter of a gifted producer like George Martin; in short, all the things that kept Paul sharp and his music hungry, lean and brilliant. The career of Wings saw the gradual slackening of McCartney's brilliance, cut loose from the boundaries and tensions that had nurtured it in the 50s and 60s ~ Mike Scott

GeoX said...

I know I'm just repeating conventional wisdom, but it happens to be true: Band on the Run is a great album. No comment on the rest of the band's output.

Adam Roberts said...

In case it wasn't clear from my original post: I love Wings. Band on the Run, sure: but also Red Rose Speedway, London Town, various bits of Venus and Mars. Plus 'Maybe I'm Amazed' and 'Live and Let Die' are two of McCartney's very best songs.

Indeed I like the new Robbie album just fine, too: indeed, 'Do You Mind?', with its clever little stuttering syncopated rocking chorus, may be the best single song he's ever recorded.

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