Just over a week ago, Robbie Williams announced that he’d be releasing an album of rare and previously unreleased tracks called Under The Radar Volume 1. This immediately excited me because I’ve always loved and collected Robbie’s B-sides and have often felt that many of them were stronger than some of the material on his albums. To that end, his site indicated that some of the tracks would be B-sides, which disappointed me slightly because I wanted it to only consist of tracks that would be entirely new to me. Well, guess what? It turns out none of the tracks on the album are B-sides. Not to the best of my knowledge and I’m pretty sure I’d know. Regardless, all 14 songs are new to me and I fell in love with the 54 minute collection from the first time I listened to it. Honestly, there isn’t a bad song in the eclectic bunch!
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll state something you’ve probably already deduced from the above: I’m a Robbie Williams fan. A longtime fan. In fact, he’s one of my top five artists on the planet. So, this review is going to be positive; if that’s going to bother you, I’m sure you can find a super critical analysis on some other website. But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m objectively reviewing this when it’s pretty much impossible for me to do so.
Thus far, I’ve only received the download from Robbie’s site, so I’m still awaiting my physical copy. I’m hoping it will indicate which album sessions these songs were recorded during, or otherwise have some linear notes, as I’m going crazy trying to figure out which albums these songs were written for. To my ears, most of them sound like they’re from the Escapology and Intensive Care era, those being my two favorite Robbie William’s albums, but that’s just a guess.
The album opens with a vivacious song called “Bully.” “When you die the world’s gonna be lighter,” Robbie sings, putting the bullies of the world in their place. Which, in this case, happens to be with their brains splattered all over the classroom blackboard, Robbie singing “shoot the bully” before snappy, all-firing percussion that almost sounds like a gunshot. (He doesn’t actually mention brains, but these are the things one thinks of when listening to this one.) You could argue that this song sends a bad message, but Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” was from the point of view of someone who’s in the process of shooting up an entire school and nobody seemed to mind that so I don’t see why Robbie should be forbidden to sing about shooting one lousy bully. It’s obviously just fantasy anyway.
“Raver” follows and is an entirely positive, turbo-charged number right up there with his best anthems. “I ran with the runaways / Runaways / Runaways,” goes the first part of the shout-it-out chorus. Later he sings, “One scream for the last romantic,” his voice over-flowing with passion. If you ask me, he should have just called the song “Runaways,” but Robbie has a thing for giving his songs unexpected titles, so there you have it. I really don’t know why this song wasn’t released previously because it’s one of the catchiest, most spirited songs Robbie has ever done. It’s so good that he could have opened his next album with it and made it the first single.
Although I don’t think he’s calling it a single exactly, Robbie has made a video for “H.E.S.,” which stands for “heavy entertainment show.” The video clearly didn’t cost much to make and is pretty low concept, but better that than to have no videos at all from this fine collection. Besides, the song is so vigorous that it really sells itself; they could have simply put the audio up on Youtube with the album cover and thousands of people would’ve listened to it already. So, if you’re going to promote a song to get people interested in the album, you might as well make a little video to go with it.
One of the very best tracks on the album comes later. It’s called “Love is You” and it’s a beautiful ballad with piano and strings — and a heavenly glow — that packs the sort of spot on, brutally honest lyrics that have made Robbie famous. “One minute you’re fine / Then love will go and change its mind / I have lost all that’s true / Loving You,” goes the serene chorus. Later he sings, “I have lost / So have you / Love is you.” This one reminds me of “Misunderstood” from Robbie’s Greatest Hits album. It’s that same sort of classic singer/songwriter-ballad sentimentality and is equally emotive.
Elsewhere, “National Treasure” sounds like a classic Elton John/Bernie Taupin collaboration, being that it is piano-driven and the lyrics tell a story. “In a world full of weird, you’re the oddest ever,” goes part of the carefree chorus, addressing one Mister Jones, whom the song is about. It’s an animated track that is guaranteed to have you swaying in your seat, or at least tapping your foot to the beat. Suffice to say it’s ridiculously irresistible and impossible to sit still through.
Perhaps the most amusing song on the album is “The BRITS,” which begins with Robbie stating: “I’m very excited to be here yet again, it’s an honor to be nominated…” Then he says something else but it’s nonsensical and stuttered. The point, obviously, is that he’s making a joke about The BRITS. But that’s not what the whole song is about. “Still looking for an answer through the looking glass / Still not concentrating at the back of the class,” begins the swirling chorus. Later, he sings, “If they won’t entertain you then I’ll do my fucking best.” The verses here are almost rapped but not quite. It’s kind of like the sing speak style Robbie did during some of the tracks on the Rudebox album, although those tracks were technically rap. This one is just slightly less rap than those.
As I basically stated above, this collection is flawless, so much so that it’s probably my favorite of Robbie’s releases since Intensive Care. (It’s far superior to Take The Crown, that much is for certain.) Not that I’ve disliked the albums he’s done since then, but these songs grab me much more lyrically and have some of his best melodies in ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if some fans started calling this his magnum opus. Surely, it’s one of his most imperative records. If you’ve never heard Robbie, or maybe you’ve heard a track or two and are curious, I would actually say that this collection is a great place to start, as it features Robbie doing all of the things he does best, and at the top of his game, throughout.
Buy Under The Radar Volume I now: http://po.st/utr
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