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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 00:03 GMT
Robbie's enigmatic return
Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams experimented with big band music

Robbie Williams' latest album, Escapology, is the first to be released under his big-money deal with EMI, and will be one of the UK's biggest sellers this Christmas.

Robbie Williams is the biggest star the UK music scene has got, and Escapology will keep him on top of the heap for a while yet.

It is far from an inspired slab of musical brilliance - but the songs are as strong as fans have come to expect.

They could also be described as more mature. Mature, sad, lonely and infuriatingly enigmatic.

Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams has yet to crack the US
Escapology reveals more of Robbie's dark side - another public cry for help, dominated by songs dealing with his depression, loneliness and trouble coping with his superstar status.

Everybody likes Robbie, the cheeky entertainer who can make fans laugh and cry with apparent ease.

But over recent months, he has made it increasingly clear just how much of an act he puts on for the crowds.

First, a behind-the-scenes documentary, Nobody Someday, exposed the Jekyll and Hyde-like differences between his on and off-stage personas.

Then he announced that he was taking "happy pills" to combat depression.

And now the first two songs on this album tell us "I am a depressed man, not sure what I'm doing all of the day" and "I don't want to die, but I ain't keen on living either".

He is "just young and overrated", he sings - "scum" with a "heart of chrome" who sings "a bunch of lies".

Little light

Songs not taking a dig at his celebrity - like single Feel and another stand-out track Love Somebody - have a lovelorn tint.

And Robbie's explanation of the album's title and what he is trying to escape from sheds little light on what is going on in his head.

"I wouldn't like to give it a meaning," he said. "If there is anything, it's that I wanted to kill Robbie off. But I haven't. I'm not going to."

The infuriating enigma that is Robbie Williams grows more infuriating and enigmatic with each word.

We know he has an ego the size of a stadium, which is fed by the adulation that also causes the problems.

Self pity

But rather than complain about his tortured celebrity on an album that will enhance his status further, maybe he should save it for a shrink.

His self-pity is not deep enough to wipe out his inspiration for writing and singing, though.

There are some upbeat songs, like Hot Fudge - about how he wants to move to LA to escape the English winters, but "there's just a green card in the way".

And some tracks are driven by the spirits of Elton John and Queen, maybe signalling a move to dominate the middle of the road.

This will be the last album written with tunesmith partner Guy Chambers - and fans and EMI executives will watch closely to see how Robbie fares without him.

If it turns out that Chambers was the one with the Bacharach touch that took Robbie to the top of the charts, it will be bad news for the singer.

But there are positive signs on Escapology's final track, Nan's Song - the first track Robbie has ever written on his own.

It is not the best track on the album, but it shows a knack for composing a strong tune.

And it rounds off 15 tracks that will satisfy Robbie's fanatical legions. But once you scratch the surface, it raises more questions about the man behind the music.

Robbie William's Escapology is released on Monday, 18 November.

See also:

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