Sound: Robbie Williams found his "big break" as a founding member of the English pop group Take That. During the band's initial run Take That released three studio albums, all of which showcased an all too commonly heard mainstream pop sound. Nonetheless, with these albums Take That became a strong commercial success, with the band's music topping the charts in multiple countries around the world. As Take That increased in popularity, tensions began to rise within the internal workings of the band. Following disputes between his fellow band members and management, Robbie Williams announced his departure from the group in the late '90s.
Williams would then embark on a solo career, which ended up being even more successful than his ventures with Take That. Since 1997, Robbie Williams has been regularly releasing solo albums which, mostly thanks to their significant soft rock and dance vibes, continue to produce radio hit singles and position high within the album charts. 2006 showed Williams reuniting with Take That for a critically acclaimed reunion tour and comeback album, "Beautiful World" It marked the group's first new album in eleven years, and subsequently became the second-fastest selling album in the United Kingdom.
Robbie Williams remains a member of Take That, but continues to focus on his solo career. Now Williams is back with his first new effort in two years, "Swings Both Ways," which shows Robbie teaming up with a cast of successful pop artists while performing a set of classic covers and new material. Songs such as "Go Gentle" come across as very uninspired, and has Robbie singing in a moderately low pitch while being backed solely by some quiet orchestral work. Had the actual instrumental side of this album been raised by a few decibels, it would dramatically improve the listening experience. But when you have a song where the singer is placed above quite orchestral playing within the mix, and said singer barely moves above a normal speaking tone it quickly makes for a dull listening experience.
This unfortunately can also be said for the majority of Robbie Williams' new effort. Robbie gives his own take on the 1946 Merle Travis hit "Sixteen Tons," which just like the previously mentioned "Go Gentle" has Robbie singing above some deep bass playing and quiet brass playing. You're left on the edge of your seat patiently waiting for the piece to crescendo into a standout cover, but this never occurs and the song ends up falling flat. One of the album's brighter moments is "Soda Pop" featuring Michael Buble, where for once we can actually distinguish the brass playing within the mix. This seemingly insignificant difference gives this song an entirely different attitude, and Robbie's vocals compliment the bright instrumental work just right to provide an unignorable '50s vibe. // 6
Lyrics: Either time has taken a toll on Robbie Williams' vocal range, or hitting notes above a normal speaking tone is just outside of his comfort zone, but either way his vocals quickly become one of this album's significant downsides. It's not so much his fault as it is the production quality; the majority of the songs on "Swings Both Ways" sound almost like an isolated vocal track, with the instrumental playing reduced to a near whisper. When we can actually hear the album's musical side on such songs as the aforementioned "Soda Pop," the crisp brass playing more or less hide the flaws within Robbie's performance. Instead of him being the spotlight on these songs, his singing instead complements the instrumental work. // 5
Overall Impression: Robbie Williams' new album "Swings Both Ways" is not a completely horrible effort. It does have some proud moments, but the album's production quality ends up showcasing the wrong qualities within the mix. // 5
- Lou Vickers (c) 2013