Home > A&E: Editorial/Review > Robbie Williams’ new release is an atypical pop album

Robbie Williams’ new release is an atypical pop album

By Christina Edwards

November 18, 2009

In a world where top- 40 radio hits have people conditioned to recognize pop music as mindless, albeit occasionally fun, variations upon a theme, British pop star Robbie Williams’ latest offering, “Reality Killed the Video Star,” might come as a shock to the system.

Despite being a former member of British 90s boy band Take That (he left the group in 1995 to launch his solo career), his work in the last 15 years has shown a sense of ingenuity and a penchant for constant reinvention rarely found anymore on the major labels. “Reality Killed the Video Star,” which is his eighth solo album, is no exception to this rule.

Williams has yet to gain an incredibly strong notoriety in the United States but is probably best known for his 1999 single “Angels,” still clearly has something to say and a point of view to express, even after being in the industry for nearly two decades. This album features Williams’ signature insightful irreverence for the mainstream point of view and an impressively cohesive smorgasbord of musical influences and allusions.

The album opens with “Morning Sun” and closes with a reprise of the song, a full-circle move that nicely pulls the whole thing together. The song, a lyrical reference and tribute to Michael Jackson, is a somber and jarring take on the reality of loneliness in fame: “You always wanted more than life/ But now you don’t have the appetite/ In a message to the troubadour/ The world don’t love you anymore.” The lyrics are in a pleasant juxtaposition to the soaring, bright orchestrations.

Williams continues to mix and modernize genres throughout the album, creating an eclectic collection of perspectives. The track “You Know Me” is layered with an old-school, Frankie Valli nostalgic sound and mixed with a much fuller orchestration coming out of the chorus. The lyrics mix a 50s heartthrob simplicity with occasional literary genius as he throws in a refreshing bout of alliteration.

Williams goes on to tackle the dance beats in the vaguely dark “Last Days of Disco,” overlaying a stereotypical disco sound with modern electro beat in what becomes surprising aural ear candy.
Williams proves his versatility, as that track doesn’t seem at all out of place on the same album as the drum-heavy, catchy rock beat of “Do You Mind?” The repetitive, forward-moving melody is enough to earn the song multiple plays, but coupled with the opening tongue-in-cheek “this is a song about metaphors,” it easily transitions from fun to borderline intuitive genius.

The lyrics hit hard and pack a punch throughout the album. A pop album may be slightly better served with a side of mindless fun, but this is already so far from a typical pop album it’s more than forgivable. The album is so littered with lyrical gems it’s hard to pick a standout, but Williams manages to be insightful without being overwhelming or cryptically trying too hard.

Williams manages to capture his wide-ranging perspective in a nutshell in “Difficult for Weirdos” — “I like it different/I like it strange/In my own way/I haven’t changed.”

Each song is worth listening to as its own complete, inspired entity. There’s not a hint of filler or repetition to be found. With “Reality Killed the Video Star,” Williams has managed to create something that entertains with the capability of making the listener feel something, while retaining his unique point of view and musically taking himself — and the listener — somewhere new.

Originally written for The Pendulum

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Categories: A&E: Editorial/Review
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