Arts & Entertainment
3 min

CD Reviews: Robbie Williams & The Bicycles

Waning versus winning talent

Robbie Williams is a guilty pleasure. Robbie Williams is a cunt. He’s one part Tom Jones (a cartoonish sexy showman) and one part Spike Jones (amusing and utterly annoying at the same time). His 1999 album The Ego Has Landed and especially 2000’s Sing When You’re Winning were good solid inventive pop albums.

Sure, they were commercial albums your grandma could love but they had heart, soul and bite. The warped thoughts of a troubled drugged-out pop star were coherently realized with the help of William?s brilliant collaborator/co-songwriter/producer Guy Chambers.

Chambers left Williams a few years ago and ever since Williams has been struggling. His albums have gotten worse and worse.
His new album Rudebox is an utterly horrendous piece of nothing, full of obscure covers and dated late ’80s/early ’90s sounds. He seems to be spending too much time in the Hollywood Hills, drinking Crystal and baggin’ birds (and playing the gay card when it strikes his fancy). His charming Britishness has dissolved into self-parody.

“Rudebox” is the first single. It’s a dance track that samples reggae pioneers Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s “Boops (Here To Go)” and does nothing with it. It’s a straightforward formulaic million-dollar production with Williams rapping (he sounds slightly bored) over spacey Moogs and synthesizers.
“Okay then back to bass-heads/ Dance like you just won at the
special Olympics,” Williams raps. “I got the rudebox off the back of
a spaceship/ So sick I just had to take it.”

If there’s a song that works and harkens to his glory days it’s his cover of Lewis Taylor’s “Lovelight.” Produced by DJ whiz kid Mark Ronson (Lily Allen, Nikka Costa), it has that Jamiroquai disco sparkle with Williams singing in his dreamy falsetto over enchanting beats and bewitching saxophones. The addition of vocalist N’Dea Davenport makes it a sexy exuberant dance track.

The production of the other misguided covers, such as The Human League’s “Louise,” Manu Chao’s “Bongo Bong,” My Robot Friend’s “We’re The Pet Shop Boy” and Stephen Tin Tin Duffy’s “Kiss Me” are so one-dimensional that they seem more tailor-made for ’80s pop slut Samantha Fox.

The most telling track (and no, it’s not his biographical songs, “The ’80s” and “The ’90s”) is “She’s Madonna,” written by Williams and The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. Those bitches know what they’re doing here. The lyrics are delicious. Williams may have found his new Guy Chambers. Williams sings (with Tennant in the background) about his love for Madge. This isn’t so much a star-crossed fan as crossing stars. “I love you baby/ But face it she’s Madonna/ No man on earth/ Could say that he don’t want her.”

But it’s the first lines of the song that are killer. When Williams sings them, you just know Tennant may just be writing what many think of Williams. It’s thrilling. “Oh Madonna/ I don’t miss you/ Just who you used to be/ And you don’t ring true.”

The Bicycles’ new album The Good The Bad And The Cuddly is just the best thing ever. This Toronto quintet has a thing for ’60s and ’70s pop with influences as diverse as The Monkees, The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, The Archies and Burt Bacharach. What makes the band so special is that they also write great tunes worthy of the artists they admire.

If the first track doesn’t win you over then you’re a cold-hearted snake. “B-B-Bicycles” starts with crunchy surf guitars and crashing drums. Then seconds later, controlled chaos occurs. Organs, tambourines and zillions of other spazziod sounds hypnotically whirl about as singer Matt Beckett sings in his sweet nerdy-boy style. “She asked me for a record/ I said you gotta be patient,” Beckett warbles. ‘It’s not just a band/ It’s a mode of transportation.”

On “Ghost Town” horns happily cry to a sun-soaked melody as Drew Smith (all five members take a stab at lead) sings ever so softly, “Some take up residence in funeral homes/ Some hang their fuzzy dice in catacombs/ Alexander Graham Bell’s crying on the telephone/ Yeah, this is a ghost town.”

Producer Dan Bryk keeps everything tight and slick with just a slight feeling that it could all fly off the handle at any minute. He gives the cuteness in the band an edge. It has the classic brilliance of Elvis Costello’s 1980 pop classic Get Happy! Not one song falters, the songwriting is impeccable and the musicianship downright enchanting. They even cover The Monkee’s underappreciated “Cuddly Toy.” Oh gosh, I want to hug every one of them. I want to collect them all!