New Year’s Eve 2000 is burned on my mind for two reasons. Firstly, my brother came to Chicago to celebrate it with me. This resulted in a New Year’s party that neither one of us has any recollection of. It wasn’t exactly like the movie “Hangover” but close enough. Secondly, and more importantly, New Year’s Day 2001 was the first time ever I heard Robbie Williams’ ”Better Man.”
My brother had brought the ”Sing When You’re Winning” album with him for me to listen. According to him, there was this song I just had to hear. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really that keen on giving the CD a spin. I knew that Robbie had been part of Take That and that was reason enough for me to pass on his solo work. I doubt this comes as a surprise to anyone but I must admit that I detest the concept of ”boy bands.” For me, the central requirement for being in a band has always been the ability to play an instrument. However, at the height of the boy-band craze, the central requirements seemed to be the ability to dance and look good. Enough said about this. I get it – different strokes for different folks.
As we were having the first breakfast of the new year at four o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, my brother got the CD out of his backpack on one of his many trips to the bathroom and handed it to me. The moment of truth had arrived. I hesitantly walked up to my CD player, placed the disc in the CD slot and pressed play.
I was told to start from track two, so I did. Soon, the acoustic intro of the song came on. It sounded incredibly good. To be honest, I was hooked even before the singing started. And then the vocals came on…nothing short of excellent. In fact, this is exactly how one should go about singing a song like this. Robbie does here what British pop artists so often excel in: He saves the drama in his singing to those phrases that actually count – listen to how he delivers the line ”rest assured my angels” and you’ll know what I mean.
And the production? Top notch. For instance, check out how the strings are introduced briefly before the second verse starts but are actually brought in at the start of the second bridge. Outstanding! In addition, listen to what the bass is doing right before the middle eight begins and also how cleverly producer Guy Chambers uses strings and harmonies during this section of the song to create a compelling climax.
However, the final touch, the cherry on top, are the lyrics. There’s something incredibly disarming and honest about them. Most men out there might not have said this at home but they for sure have thought it.
Go easy on my conscious
’Cause it’s not my fault
I know I’ve been taught
To take the blame
I can truly relate, Robbie!
The rest of the album isn’t quite at the same level as this superb track that hasn’t oddly enough found a place on any of the many Robbie Williams compilation albums – maybe the compilers had wax in the ears? However, that’s not to say that “Sing When You’re Winning” is without its merits. The whimsical ”Road To Mandalay,” the idiosyncratic, I-Will-Survive rip off ”Supreme,” the Elton-meets-Bowie ”If It’s Hurting You”, the McCartneyish ”Singing For The Lonely” and the slightly Ray Davies-like ”All Means Necessary” all trumpet the same thing: Among the artists that originated from boy bands, Robbie Williams is the exception to the rule – he is actually pretty damn good! Needless to say the dark moments on this album do the exact opposite and remind you where this artist earned his chops. However, regardless of its obvious shortcomings, with this album Robbie was able to prove, for once and for all, that you can make great music even if you don’t have two left feet.
Check out this live version of “Better Man” from 2001.
And here’s Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman’s version of “Something Stupid.” The original version was by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, released way back in 1967.
You can learn more about Robbie Williams here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.