This might be awkward.
Not for me.
I don’t know how to say it.
Maybe the best thing is just to say it as it is - jump straight in.
Then we can unpack it.
Here we go.
I love Robbie Williams.
That feels good.
The thing is that there is a certain school of thought that suggests that if you like the sort of music that I Like, that you cannot also like Robbie Williams. There are even people who believe that you can only like one genre of music - who refuse to open their ears, their hearts, and their minds, to the hundreds of thousands of artists creating music in different ways, with different voices, and with different motivations.
This is particularly true in the world of “indie”.
Indie is an unsatisfactory label.
It doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
It used to be about raincoated lovers, puny brothers, tattered copies of “Brighton Rock”, being fey and winsome, celebrating the twee and the sincere. Now it means - sounds a bit like Oasis or The Beatles.
The first time I heard “Back for Good” by Take That I knew that it was my sort of thing.
I will die defending my position that “In the twist of separation, you excelled at being free” is the greatest line that Morrissey never wrote.
I didn’t ever love Take That in the way that I had loved other boy bands - specifically Bros - but “Relight My Fire”, “Babe”, “Never Forget”, are all wonderful pop songs. The sorts of things that lift your spirits, make you appreciate the thrill of great songwriting.
If you can’t see that “Back For Good” is a better song than anything the likes of The Lathums will ever write, I can’t help you.
When Robbie left Take That and started bleaching his hair, hanging out at Glastonbury, and generally being proper naughty, I thought it was hilarious. He looked like he was having a ball. Gurning beside Liam Gallagher, rolling out of The Groucho, acting like a man without a care in the world - and yet underneath all that you could tell there was a pain, a longing for love and belonging.
I always enjoyed the singles that Robbie released in those first years of his solo career proper: “Old Before I Die” (a Britpop classic), “Let Me Entertain You”, “Millenium”, “No Regrets”, “Rock DJ”, “Kids”, are all terrific. I lost interest with the lounge singer thing in the early part of the noughties before reconnecting with things like “Feel”, Candy”, “Bodies” as the decade progressed.
It was 2009’s “Reality Killed the Video Star” that really cemented my position that Williams is the pop Morrissey. Jude Rogers, reviewing the album for The Quietus, put this thought in my head when she said - “But firstly, my theory: Robbie Williams is the mainstream pop Morrissey. Some of the similarities are cosmetic. There’s that greying quiff, the solid torso, the Northern shoulders for starters. Then there’s the longing for attention, the need to clasp the hands of the sweaty front row…and the self-awareness and self-flagellation that whips their songs into shape.”
My other reason for loving Robbie has been the fact that he, like me, has clearly been haunted by feelings of not being enough, of wishing to please no matter the cost, of falling short and causing trouble for himself and others along the way. He has hit heights that few ever manage, he has tasted success that only a few others could recognise, and yet he has never lost that look in his eye that suggests a fear lurks just underneath the surface.
Maybe I am projecting.
Despite the common perception that he is a cock twat - he is a man who has been humbled, who has struggled with his weight, who has experienced depression, who has lost himself, who has found love, and who has fallen and picked himself up when nobody believed he could.
Like I said - I love Robbie Williams.
Now Robbie has returned with something very different.
A new album under the name Lufthaus along with Tim Metcalfe and Flynn Francis.
It is violently different to everything, and anything, that Williams has done before.
A collection of electronic pop songs - dark and anthemic in equal parts. The sort of music that would fill the dance floor at a nightclub in Berlin at any point between 1979 and today. It all sounds beautifully retro - with Pet Shop Boys (who Williams has worked with previously), New Order, Depeche Mode, The Human League, classic Haçienda sets, and even modern artists like Perturbator and hints of Italians Do It Better.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor appears at one point (Immortal), reprising her career saving work with Groovejet back in 2000. But for the most part this is the sound of Williams becoming something very different than a pop star. There is the recognisable classic songwriting of his pop career, but Lufthaus is darker, more dangerous, and more thrilling than anything he has done to date.
There are people who will refuse to listen because it is Robbie - they will mutter something about how Take That were shit (they were not), how “Angels” was shit (it was), and then compare him to Mick Jagger or Liam Gallagher (he’s an altogether more interesting and entertaining presence than either of those), and then they will return to the music they have been listening to forever.
But if you can get past your desperate desire to be “cool” (although what is cool about taking pot shots at pop music is beyond me) then you will find Visions Vol.1 to be an album that will set your heart racing.
Thank God for Robbie Williams.