Review: “Rudebox” by Robbie Williams (CD, 2006)

Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain fate is the 2006 7th solo album Rudebox by British singer and former-Take That star, Robbie Williams. Will this album be like an Angel on the ears, or just a box of rubbish? Read on…

Robbie Williams - Rudebox (2006) album cover
Robbie Williams – Rudebox (2006) album

This 16 track CD opens with title track and lead single Rudebox. The heavy bass drum and the 8-bit sounding synths lead us into this track. ‘Do the rudebox, why you so nasty?‘ the vocals ask. Robbie kind of raps on this. Whilst musically it is really quite nice with the retro bleeping sounds, but the lyrics and Robbie’s delivery just makes it a little uncomfortable. Despite this, the track reached #4 in the UK.

A harmonica opens Viva Life On Mars. For a moment I feel like I can hear a bit of Beck throughout this track. There’s plenty of country-styled guitar playing and nice vocal harmonies. The result is quite a nicely flowing warm track.

Lovelight is next, and stood as the album’s single. The track features a gentle use of vocalist N’Dea Davenport (formerly The Brand New Heavies), who doesn’t really get much of an airing until her harmonies with Robbie towards the end of the song. The track is a cover of the 2003 song by Lewis Taylor, although it was new to me. This is quite a smooth and funky song, with plenty of saxophone. The track worked, giving him a #8 UK hit.

Following this is Bongo Bong And Je Ne T’Aime Plus. The track features those unmistakeable vocals of Lily Allen, and her voice is a nice contrast in the chorus to Robbie’s near-rapping style again. This is the second of five cover songs, this time from Manu Chau. Lily returns for the Je Ne T’aime Plus part of the song, again sounding superb. The track is an odd choice here, but somehow it works. The track stood as the final single in eastern Europe.

She’s Madonna follows next, and it’s a collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys. It has that instantly recognisable PSB sound to it, who not only have co-writer, backing vocals, but also production credits too. It flows effortlessly, and Robbie gets a track to show off some of his better singing vocals, despite the somewhat novelty lyrics. The track stumbled at #16 in the UK chart when it was released

For a moment, the vocals in the intro of Keep On, ‘hotel, motel‘ and in a few other places, it sounds like the late great David Bowie.. but now, it seems to be an imitation. The beats drop in, and Robbie’s in with the high speed vocals. Lily Allen returns for backing, again giving a nice contrast. The song switches between fast and dreamy, with Mark Ronson on production. This track is fun, but a bit of a mess of ideas. Why the psuedo-Bowie?

Good Doctor follows this, and Robbie is once again in shouty mode, this time about pills ‘give me loads of pills, loads of pills’ he sings. There’s a nice whistling section over what sounds like a load of forgotten 60s samples. It’s quite a funky little track, but mostly a mess.

That’s followed by The Actor, with Robbie calling the cast to the song. There’s a really nice bass synth here, and plenty of bleeping sounds again. According to the sleeve, tucked away on backing vocals is the legendary Judie Tzuke and her daughter. She really shouldn’t be hidden away there, and she’s easy to miss. The song does flow nicely though, almost reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys’ style, and amongst the list of actor names, they do at least mention Dame Judi Dench, so you can’t really complain too much.

Never Touch That Switch is next, and again Robbie gets to show off his vocals, sounding a bit like Beck again. It’s quite a nice little catchy song, particularly with the chorus.

Time for third cove song Louise. It starts off with a simple synth, drum machine, and a female backing vocals. This is a cover of the Human League hit from 1984. The track is pretty stripped back and simple, and could easily just be Robbie over a karaoke track. It sounds almost exactly the same, and therefore somewhat pointless to cover it. They’ve even wasted money on William Orbit, who has a production credit here.

Fourth cover We’re The Pet Shop Boys follows that, a cover of My Robot Friend‘s track, and this time Robbie has cajoled the Pet Shop Boys themselves to perform on it. The track has a wonderful synth pad sound starting the track off, as Robbie delivers the lyrics reminiscing 1980s boyhood and the PSB tracks. The drum machine in the verse is lovely. I think it sounds quite nice, and it’s fun to have the PSB singing it.

Burslem Normals follows this, with a slow Moog synth sequence. This wanders through the track, with some wonderful pads brooding in the background. Robbie sings quietly and in a lower register, and at times this could be Jarvis Cocker on a lost track from Pulp’s album A Different Class.

Final cover Kiss Me bursts in like a massive euro pop song. This is a cover of Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy’s 1983 track. It carries a 100% 80’s feeling and should have been a UK single. It’s pretty catchy, and retains an early 80’s sound. However, it was released as a single, but only in Scandinavia where it gave him moderate success.

Next is The 80’s, which is laden with references to the 1980s, and gives us an insight into Robbie’s early life. The track isn’t necessarily catchy, but it sounds wonderful, and one where his non-singing works well.

That leads on to The 90’s, and this time it’s a guitar-led track about leaving school and joining Take That. Again it’s another nice autobiographical song, and it flows along perfectly. It deals with Robbie’s difficulties adapting to life in the group, and Gary Barlow. A really nice little song.

The album closes with Summertime, and William Orbit’s trademark sweeping soundscapes return here as Robbie sings over the top. Muscially this sounds really quite nice, and a mellow ending to this mixed album.

..but then you realise the album continues to play for a bit longer, and then the real final track Dickhead is up next. Here Robbie gives fighting talk with every 4th worked being dickhead. MC Tofty takes rapping duties off Robbie, where he sings about he’s ‘got a bucket of shit’. He sounds like Chris Moyles.

Robbie Williams’ lead single ‘Rudebox’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is a bit schizophrenic.

Kudos to Robbie for trying some new styles here, and he leans on the robotic/synth sound quite a lot here, with Robbie-rap, and more indie sounds thrown in between.

The return of the Pet Shop Boys, and inclusion of Lily Allen and William Orbit really stand out as great choices. The hidden voices of N’Dea and Judie really should have been promoted up bit more to add more of their complimenting vocal sound.

The album is a bumpy ride from one genre to another, and Robbie’s rapping isn’t as comfortable here due its overuse. The lowest point being Good Doctor, but the album’s high points are She’s Madonna, We’re The Pet Shop Boys, The Actor, and Kiss Me.

If the album was cut shorter, then it would be far easy to stomach. The Louise cover was absolutely pointless.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 2006 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #1, certified 2x Platinum by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: 40p from a Discogs.com seller.

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