In 2001, Robbie Williams released an album of swing covers as a jolly festive stopgap and it went seven times platinum, underlining his position as the biggest pop star in Britain. 12 years later, he’s following last year’s (pretty good) comeback album ‘Take the Crown’ with a second swing LP shrewdly and directly targeting the Christmas stocking market. The message is clear: Robbie is back for good.
‘Swings Both Ways’ feels like the work of a man who cares. For added old-fashioned showbiz razzmatazz, Williams has drafted in some A-list guest stars: Kelly Clarkson, Lily Allen, Rufus Wainwright, Michael Bublé and, erm, Olly Murs all join him for duets. He’s also reunited with Guy Chambers, the producer of all his most successful albums, whom he famously fell out with in the early noughties. And whereas ‘Swing When You’re Winning’ was a covers album dusted with one new song, this time he’s bothered to flex his songwriting muscles, coupling the swing covers with six Williams originals.
The new tunes range from the tongue-in-cheek fun of ‘No-one Likes a Fat Pop Star’ and ‘Swings Both Ways’, a pretty frisky hook-up with Wainwright, to the unexpectedly touching: ‘Snowblind’ is a regretful lament for a failed relationship and ‘Go Gentle’ is essentially an advice letter to Williams’s one-year-old daughter, Theodora. ‘Now when you go dancing with young men at the disco,’ he sings drolly, ‘Just keep it simple, you don’t have to kiss though.’
The quality of the originals makes covers of old big band chestnuts like ‘Minnie the Moocher’ and ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ feels less like throwaways, and though it’d be a stretch to say he owns these songs, Williams has enough charisma to at least make a decent down payment on them. There’s only one misfire: Williams and Murs hamming it up on ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from ‘The Jungle Book’ is as insufferable as it sounds – but at this time of year, we all embarrass ourselves occasionally. As festive trifles go, this one is satisfying and surprisingly moreish.
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