This article was first published on 8 November 2012 on Louder Than War.

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Robbie Williams – Take the Crown (Island Records)
CD / DL
Available now

While Radio One have said no thanks to Robbie we like to be a bit more inclusive here at LTW. So, here’s what Reviews Editor Sarah Lay thought of Robbie’s latest release.

Ok, so you love him or you hate him. There’s those who can’t get past his boy band roots, others who can’t reconcile his arrogance and yet more who write him off as another manufactured plastic pop star. But for all the haters there is a legion of lovers who accept the damaged, and occasionally damaging, side of him as well as forgive the failed experiments (*cough* Rudebox *cough*) for the gems he mines when paired with the write partner or producer.

His ninth studio album, Take the Crown, breaks little new ground for the Take That alumnus but is a measured study in glossy pop production full of Robbie’s trademark therapy-through-song.

From the start we head off with a backward glance as sax is laid over the intro to album opener Be A Boy. Slathering on the hazy oh-oh-ohs evokes recent electro pop such as MGMT without wandering too far from familiar Williams’ territory.

Gospel has the album really start to hit its stride; synth stabs, trickling tickling back lines and a typical vocal.

But it’s lead single Candy that sets the bar. It is a walloping great slice of pop pie with a disco cherry on the top. From the punctuated pomp of the intro this song pulls you along using a nursery rhyme hook to encourage a song-a-long, gloriously unfettered from the need to know the words by the liberal application of fairly nonsense (but bang on) lyrics.

The looping line “if it don’t feel good, what are you doing it for” brings it all back down to Ground Bob and the suspicion that the showman may well be on his way back, the period arrogant veneer over some sort of fear over at last.

Whatever is inferred it’s undeniable that Candy is addictive, saccharin and setting up camp in your brain whether invited in or not. Catchy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Elsewhere the album slathers on the ’80’s sax and synth to draw a few numbers with vocal melodies evoking U2 and their Joshua Tree and grooves handed down by the Style Council.

And there are classic Robbie moments too. The introspective list of damage ripe to be healed by love; the strong vocal with the effortless lull of the verse to the emotional strain breaking the chorus; synths and strings backing him up. The Williams’ winning formula is in full force on Into the Silence.

This and lusciously fuzzy Hunting for You proving an oasis of potential amongst the anomaly of the breakout single and the more experimental, yet weaker, tracks.

And it isn’t just the slightly off-kilter tracks which jar (after all pop is best when revelling in playfulness – better a weak difference than bland sanitisation). No, things that work well in isolation just rub wrong in the context of the album.

The duet with Lissie on Losers jars somewhat though. It’s a pleasant exercise in country-style acoustics, and they both sound earnest enough, but the whole sentiment is at odds with the rest of the album. While hear its the shame and realisation of wasted time chasing prizes that didn’t matter in the end the rest of the record, from title to bone, seems to be trying to establish a foothold to reach the lofty heights Robbie’s occupied in the past.

Maybe it’s a realisation, like on the recent run of intimate fan-only shows in mid-sized venues, that success doesn’t only come in the selling-out-Knebworth variety but can be more satisfying when you’re closer to the moment you’re creating. Maybe. It’s just a wee but too tenuous a link though leaving Losers the obvious odd one out here.

Back to the start and one of the opening refrains, Robbie quite gently sings “they said the magic had left me, I don’t think so, I don’t think so”. I’m inclined to agree with him.

Take the Crown is unlikely to catapult Williams back to reign supreme over the chart but it’s no less a valiant and likable record. Repeated listens will reap rewards and it will be to the detriment of pop fans that pass it by.

All words by Sarah Lay.