Robbie Williams - Life thru A Lens - Review
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critics' view

Robbie Williams had a 1995 to never forget, assuming he was ever in a state capable of recording the events that passed and, ultimately, defined the artist he soon became.

After drifting away from the other four members of all-conquering boyband Take That – his ideas were apparently overlooked by creative spearhead Gary Barlow, and his drug consumption threatened to see him excluded from the group before a mutual decision was finally made and he left relatively amicably – Williams wound up at Glastonbury, and was pap-snapped partying with members of the equally massive Oasis. Gossip columns flew into overdrive, and assumptions that a solo career beckoned were verified quickly enough when, the very next summer, Williams’ take on George Michael’s Freedom charted just a place shy of the top spot – that’s 26 places higher than the 1990 original.

That track didn’t make it onto Williams’ debut album of 1997, a collection of co-writes with Guy Chambers that, while mostly unremarkable when assessed as standalone arrangements, comprise the solid foundations for all that followed: seven further solo albums (2009’s Reality Killed the Video Star marks his return after three years out of the spotlight), several number one singles, more BRIT awards than any other artist, and total sales worldwide of over 55 million.

No single from Life Thru a Lens topped the singles chart in the UK, but the album certainly trumped all comers in its category, buoyed by both the celebrity status of its (co) maker and the catchy nature of whistle-along tunes like Lazy Days, Old Before I Die and the here-I-am-world-stop-me-if-you-can excessiveness of Let Me Entertain You, a song that’s less about collaborative enjoyment of music between artist and audience, and more about Williams puffing out his chest and adopting a swagger that would see him through until the comparatively melancholic overtones of second album, I’ve Been Expecting You.

And, of course, there’s Angels. It’s hard to believe, given its prominence at weddings and funerals, on mainstream radio and in supermarket aisles, that it only charted at four. But that’s the surprising fact of the matter. Less surprising is that Life Thru a Lens was just the beginning of a career that would eventually eclipse, commercially, that of even his former employers.

Mike Diver
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