Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rarities #34: Robbie Williams - Greatest Hits Box Set (2004)

There have been some sightings and news about Robbie Williams recently, so I thought it would be timely to bring this box set up. I know you can still find this box set in some stores here, but I'm going to categorise it as a Rarity anyway. 

After 5 successful solo albums since departing from Take That, Robbie decided he had enough material to release a Greatest Hits album. The main problem with releasing a Greatest Hits album is that it implies your career has come to a peak already, and it will be downhill from there on. This certainly seems to be the case for Mr Williams.

This album contains most of the hits recorded in the 7 years when he was a solo artiste. There is the standard single CD version, and there is the limited edition box set, which is what I have here.

The first 7 years were beyond good for him. After leaving the biggest boyband in the UK to embark on a solo career, many people thought that he wouldn't make it. Especially since Gary Barlow was supposedly the one with the most songwriting and vocal talent. So the odds were stacked very high against Robbie indeed.

But when he released a cover of George Michael's Freedom as his first solo single in 1996, it reached #2 in the UK singles chart. Even though Gary's first solo single Forever Love trumped him and went to #1, Robbie had the last laugh as his debut album Life Thru A Lens became a much bigger success than Gary's Open Road.

Freedom wasn't included in Life Thru A Lens though. The first single from that album was Old Before I Die, which also hit #2. Lazy Days was a more modest hit, reaching #8. But the third single South Of The Border didn't fare too well, peaking only at #8. At this time, many thought it would be the end of Robbie.

But everything changed when he unleashed Angels as the fourth single. It was an unexpected smash. Even though it peaked only at #4, it grew and grew and would eventually become the biggest hit of his career.

Having turned the tide in his favour, Robbie embarked on the "difficult second album", where it would determine whether he was going to be another one hit wonder. I've Been Expecting You quickly quashed all those doubts as its lead single Millennium went straight to the top of the UK singles chart, becoming his first solo #1 hit. A slew of hit singles followed - No Regrets (a collaboration with Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy), Strong and She's The One, his second #1 single.

He tried to take a stab at the US market by releasing The Ego Has Landed, a combination of songs from his first 2 UK albums in 1999, but he only achieved moderate success, so he decided to focus on the UK and international markets instead.

By the time the third album arrived in 1999, Robbie was a certified star in his own right. Gary's second album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, was released in the same year and disappeared without a trace.

Robbie then came up with a sensational music video for the first single, Rock DJ, which saw him ripping off his flesh and revealing his inner body parts. It was obviously a ploy to court controversy (just like MJ's panther segment of the Black Or White video) and it worked. Rock DJ hit #1 and the album, Sing When You're Winning, also duly topped the charts and went to sell over 6 million copies worldwide.

Five other smash singles followed - Kids (a duet with Kylie that was also included in her "comeback" album Light Years), Supreme (which samples I Will Survive), Let Love be Your Energy, Better Man (a mega smash in the vein of Angels and She's The One, but strangely was not released in the UK) and The Road To Mandalay (it was a double-single with Eternity, which became a #1 smash as well, but Eternity was not included in Sing When You're Winning).

After the mega success of hit first three albums, Robbie was on top of the world and could do whatever he liked. He thus took a different musical direction and released an album of swing standards, cheekily titled Swing When You're Winning.

Critics were not too kind to Robbie ravaging the much-beloved swing standards, but the public thought otherwise, helping the album spend 6 consecutive weeks at #1 and also propelling the first single to the top. The single was of course, Somethin' Stupid, a duet with Nicole Kidman, after finding fame in Moulin Rouge the same year.

Robbie scored two coups when two of his tracks were used in high-profile movies. Have You Met Miss Jones? was used in Bridget Jones's Diary and Beyond The Sea was later used in the ending credits of Finding Nemo.

After fulfilling his lifelong dream of recording a big band album, Robbie went back to business. He signed a massive £80 million recording contract with EMI and released the first album in 2002 under the new deal, Escapology.

Feel was a big hit once again, but the subsequent singles Come Undone, Something Beautiful and Sexed Up fared less well. This was also a difficult time for Robbie as he parted ways with longtime collaborator Guy Chambers, who co-wrote many of Robbie's biggest hits.

Nevertheless, he embarked on a massive worldwide tour, including three nights at Knebworth, which attracted 375,000 fans and would become the venue for his first live album, Live At Knebworth, released in 2003.

By 2004, Robbie felt that it was time for a retrospective collection and thus released this Greatest Hits album. It contains 19 tracks, including two new songs with new songwriting partner Stephen Duffy.

The first of which was Radio, which became his sixth #1 hit. The other new song was Misunderstood, which was featured on the Bridget Jones sequel soundtrack.

The 17 past hits contained here are all his smash singles, but there wasn't enough space for Better Man and Somethin' Stupid. All in all, the 19 tracks here are ALL UK Top 10 hits, with six of them being #1s, which is really impressive.

Since then, Robbie has gone on to release two less well-received albums - Intensive Care and Rudebox in 2004 and 2006 respectively. He took a hiatus and moved to Los Angeles and is reportedly working on new material again. Let's hope he can find back his form and recapture his former glory!

The box set contains all 19 singles in individual carboard sleeves, with their original single artwork. Quite a nice package.


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