Robbie takes us through his forthcoming album, Rudebox, and the thought process behind the tracks that make the album on which he 'found himself'.
“It wasn’t 'til I was in the studio the other day listening to a few of the tracks back, I was with the Soul Mekanik boys and the thought hit me… Do songs like the ones you like, I’m eight albums in, why didn’t I think of this before. Doh! I’ve just been scared to make this record before I think.
My solo career started when the Britpop explosion did and I thought, try and make songs that sound like that, but this is now… I’m 32 years old, eight albums in, and this is the record I’ve always wanted to make. It’s the start for me. It’s re-ignited how I think about what I can do with music myself. I’ve always been scared to try out different things and this album I think I’ve lost the fear of where I should be in my head as a populist, as a populist artist, and it means I can just go and do wonky pop now, which is all I really wanted to do anyway.
It has become something on which I’ve found myself. This is the right direction for me personally, this is what it is. I saw the whole Robbie thing coming to a close, I couldn’t make another album like the ones I’d made, and this has just opened up a thousand other doors. What I am excited about now is making more music. I love all the stuff on the album, I love Rudebox, it’s a favourite song of mine. I don’t know what’s gonna happen now, I’m excited about getting it out there, but I’m more excited about making more.”
Robbie Williams, August 2006
Danny and Kelvin (aka Soul Mekanik) sent me the very basic drum track and it just became a floor shaker with lyrics straight outta Stoke on Trent. My heads been in some strange places and taken some strange exit turns since I was 16. When we get in the studio we gel and we know where we are going, we get excited when it’s right. I think I’m/we’re onto something. I just think the synchronicity of where we come from and how we are as people adds its own certain chemistry in the studio. It’s a bit strange to be playing this live at the moment cos no one knows it and the venues are massive and playing something so leftfield can be quite daunting, it is something I haven't done on any other tour (played something no one knows) usually I am a big fan of give them what they want. This time I decided it is a case of give them what they don't know they want yet.
Viva Life On Mars
For me it is doing away with all I have been taught and instead of investing my faith in a Catholic religion, I decided that the fantasies on the internet are more interesting than the fantasies at the pulpit. I see it as Oh Brother Where Art Thou, meets Primal Scream when they were good; there has been three World Cups since then. Is this my first ever hoe down? A few hoes have bought me down before…
I wouldn’t have known about Lovelight if it hadn’t have been for Tom Middleton’s The Trip album - he put it on there, and I fell in love with it instantly…I can’t believe how big that song is and no one knows it. It is amazing to work with a white boy with a ghetto pass like Mark Ronson. He is on the cutting edge of all that is good out there and still manages to love pop. I feel honoured to work with somebody that puts cynicism aside in favour of the truth. I was concerned about singing that vocal, because its full on falsetto all the way through it and I’d only ever done that on the chorus of a track called Tripping that I did a couple of years ago. I knew that Lewis Taylor had done such a great vocal that it would be really hard to replicate but I think I did good singing…
King Of The Bongo
I didn’t pick this song, It picked me… King Of The Bongo was played to me by a couple of friends of mine six years ago, and I always thought, “I’ve got to cover this...” and now was the right time. King Of The Bongo to me is like an unwritten Disney Film. How did Lily Allen end up on here? I knew about her as I had met her at the studio. The Lily Allen phenomenon is not solely contained to the UK she seems to be doing well everywhere... good on her too.
My life seems to be like a never ending edition of Jim'll fix it. I am truly blessed. The odds of Robbie Williams making a ninth album ten years ago would have been more than long against. To be writing this album and having my heroes work with me feels phenomenal. I played Tour De France by Kraftwerk and said “I like this, Can we do something like this, but not much like this,” but then everything else came together pretty quickly. In case anyone asks…There is nothing tongue in cheek about this song at all, I have always fancied Madonna. I'd have hoped for it to be this good, but you can never tell before venturing into the studio. It is just a bonus that it worked out so well.
There were three things I taped off the TV that I used to watch on repeat when I was a kid: Prince’s Alphabet St tour, Public Enemy at Brixton and The Happy Mondays at G Mex. I suppose I was interested in the Happy Mondays because they looked like psychedelic next door neighbours with faces and attitude that I understood. Little did we all know that in 2006 we would still be chasing 1989? I can't remember lyrics at the best of times, there are so many in this so I doubt I will ever do it live. It is about choosing a different kind of life and believing in the boogie and all it brings.
Originally we had a sample from the Return of Django by the Upsetters, but we got rid of that, but we could always do that later. Sorry The Upsetters… It came from trying to bend the rules of a sober life, I am 32 and am still trying to look for a short cut, there isn't one. Is it hard to rhyme all those medical terms? No but it is hard to find a perfect balance.
Partly written on Oscars Night, The Actor is about living in LA, and how it has given me little respect for the acting profession. I don't see this as a dance song at all; I see it as a story over Germanic electro pop.
Never Touch That Switch
The first records I bought were electro records and I never thought in a million years it would be something Robbie Williams could do. It only struck me in the studio as we were recording. Although I didn't write this one it just reminded me of pre-narcotics and pro-stealing your mums’ lino. What does it mean? I don't know, it is in the eye of the beholder. To me Never Touch That Switch is all about never opening your system to the mood altering experience...you don't know what it can do to you.
When I was writing and recording Intensive Care with Stephen Duffy, Louise by the Human League kept on being the centre point on what I wanted to achieve with the record. With Louise I remember when it first came out, and then I didn’t listen to it for ages until the middle of the 90’s. When I heard it again, it kind of broke my heart thinking of a period of time I had back when…I wanted to make an album that would hopefully break a few hearts in 10/15 years time. Louise was the template for the Intensive Care album, so it seemed the natural next step to play homage to it and I think we’ve done a good version of it. I’d always wanted to work with William Orbit, I love my ambient melancholy.
We're The Pet Shop Boys
I just love the fact that the Pet Shop Boys covered it, it is not one of their songs and I love the irony of me covering a cover. Above all that the romance for me in this song is paramount. Did I feel like a Pet Shop Boy when I was recording it? Yes absolutely (said with a big smile). Chris Heath (the person who co-wrote Feel, my autobiography, with me) played it to me and I fell in love with it. I must say when I’ve listened to it back and when I get a chance to sing it, the “What have I, What have I, What have I done to deserve this” bit sends shivers down my spine, everytime it comes up. It’s a sense of history, yours and mine and those particular lyrics really affect me. It’s an honour to do it. I love the Pet Shop Boys and I was pleased to learn that amongst pop genii I can hold my own.
It is about an ideal of youth; It is about how in the 80s and the early 90s there were so many avenues to explore and so many gangs to be a part of. Youth Culture these days depressingly seems just about the Chav. Back then we had so much choice and the Burslem Normals was a piece of graffiti from the town I was born in, I don't know what they were into, but they sound cool as fuck.I have always liked what I like and it has always been varied and fortunately I find myself find a position where I do not have to pigeon hole myself. The sentiment in this song is the same as the sentiment in the song Heaven From Here but wonkier.
Stephen Duffy plays like he hates it; I wanted to do it as I wanted him to see how good the track is. Also when this track came out in 1981, something nice must have been happening to me at the time, because it makes me feel full of hope. Youth’s yearning for life and love and all of that. Does he like it? I don't know, I daren't ask him. Ok, so I just asked him, and yes he does.
I was obsessed by a track by the Mitchell Brothers called Routine Check and also a big fan of Mike Skinner of The Streets and what he does over records, be it rapping or poetry. Its very similar to Ian Dury’s stuff to me, I'm also a big fan of his, he was the first white British rapper. I’ve always always wanted to be a rapper, I’ve always been jealous of rappers because of how comfy they are and how cool they look, they’ve always got a tracksuit on and trainers and I have to dress up cos Im a popstar... I want to be a rapper but the world won't let me. The only reason I have craved my own niche is because it is not that easy. I love words and will continue to use them. It is bitter sweet about a decade where I formed an opinion, I was wrong.
The 90s on the other hand was, originally going to have a sample from one of my top 5 favourite songs… Wichita Lineman in it. I didn’t like it at first, but I came around to it and did some poetry on it, some comfy rapping, with very English storytelling like a modern Roald Dahl but fatter! The 90s then on became the 90s after we took the sample out. I look back at it now with a fondness in my heart. I think they are just two nice bookends; ‘The 80s – up until I’d left school, lost my virginity, done all kinds. Then there was the whole Take That story to tell which was The 90s’. It’s weird now, I’ve spunked all the best material so I’ll have to do something drastic so that we have some source material for the next one.
When it was originally written it was one of the first, if not the first songs I wrote when I came out of Take That and the feel of the song is a complete juxtapose of how I was at the time. When I wrote Summertime, which is a very euphoric, up song I don’t think I could have been anymore depressed, deluded, lost. I remember I went down to London in a pair of Vivian Westwood tartan bondage trousers, a pair of black Patrick Cox and a lovely white Vivian Westwood shirt…I was skinny as, a right proper raver and I moved in with a lady on new years night, and by February I was just fat! fat and horrible and lost, all over the place. That was when I met up with Ant Genn and we wrote the song together, Ant was my indie enfant terrible; I adored him cos he was cool as fuck and Northern and funny, I wanted to be him, but drugs took their tole on both of us. At least I have a lasting memory of an amazing yet catastrophic summer, plus I love the fact that little bunnies freeze in the snow.
Dickhead (Bonus track)
Dickhead was definitely leant from the Mitchell Brothers, so they are to blame for this whole thing. Conversely amongst my friends, Dickhead is the biggest compliment that can be paid, if I call you a Dickhead I like you, but it means the reverse on this record. Life sometimes seems to be a Krypton factor course of idiots, unfortunately idiots speak the loudest. This song is for everyone that thinks I am a Dickhead, I am just reciprocating, the feeling is mutual.