The New Classic
What is the point of Robbie Williams in 2013?
It is a question worth asking, as Robbie nowadays finds himself in a career mid-life crisis. No longer a teen idol, and cast out into the wilderness by Radio 1, he yet remains far too flippant, subversive and generally interesting a figure to settle for a more mature/adult audience à la James Blunt or Michael Bublé.
As British pop's great prankster ponders this dilemma, he has taken a safe sideways step and gone back to the future. While his 2001 Swing When You're Winning album was regarded at the time as self-indulgent, its seven-times-platinum sales make it one of his biggest selling records to date. A belated follow-up swing album is thus pretty much a no-brainer.
Unlike the first album, Swings Both Ways also features original material among the Sinatra-style covers. Guy Chambers is now firmly back in Williams' fold, and Shine My Shoes, Go Gentle and the title track (a hyper-camp duet with a drawling Rufus Wainwright) are fun, sophisticated pop songs, if hardly likely to challenge the sales of Angels or Let Me Entertain You.
It's a Christmas album in all but name; hence the succession of star names dueting on hoary old standards. Robbie patently had fun in the studio larking through Dream A Little Dream with Lily Allen, Little Green Apples with Kelly Clarkson and the Jungle Book's I Wanna Be Like You with Olly Murs, even if the results could hardly be categorised as essential listening.
The album closer, No One Likes A Fat Pop Star ("You just can't be portly this side of 40") shows that his mordant, self-mocking wit is safely intact, but Swings Both Ways is an album that teens will give to their aunties as a Christmas present, rather than vice versa – a fact that Robbie may like to ponder as he loiters at his career crossroads…