FROM ALL the members of Take That, Robbie Williams never really seemed to fit in. He was the cheeky one and at the time, appeared to be the only one who could be badly behaved, fighting regularly with the other members and the band’s management. So it didn’t come as a surprise that he was the first to leave, departing in the summer of 1995 to pursue a solo career.
When Take That finally did break up, predictions were that Mark Owen (the nice one) and Gary Barlow (the voice and marketable one) would succeed. Little hope was given to Williams. While Barlow was being groomed as the UK’s next George Michael, Williams caused mayhem. For most of 1995, he attempted to boost his credibility by tagging along with Oasis, hoping that Noel Gallagher would give him a couple of songs. He never did, but this time spent with the bad boys of Brit-pop launched Williams into a world of heavy partying, drinking and drug taking. Over the course of 1996, he was only heard from in gossip columns pouring over his latest extravagance, certainly not discussing his music.
His debut single in August 1996 was a cover version of George Michael’s Freedom and was a disaster. Following a spell in Clouds House Rehabilitation Clinic for alcohol and drug addiction treatment, a seemingly wiser Williams stepped out and set about recording an album that eclipsed Barlow’s debut both musically and critically. Life Thru A Lens contained Old Before I Die, which charted at number two in the UK. However, the failure of follow-up singles Lazy Days and South of the Border, cast doubt on his staying power, but the Christmas single, Angels single-handedly revived his ailing career.
This ballad was written within 20 minutes, and got voted the second best song of all time by British voters. Never before had so many pundits and critics been proved so wrong.
Williams renaissance continued with Millennium entering the UK singles chart at number one in September 1998 and I’ve Been Expecting You topped the album chart two months later. He was also announced as being the biggest selling album artist of 1998. No Regrets, featuring backing vocals by Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) and Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) surprisingly stalled at number four in December, but Robbie returned to the top of the UK charts in November 1999 with She’s The One.
The release of his third UK chart topper Rock DJ in 2000 was promoted by a controversial but award–winning video and The Ego Has Landed, a US only compilation, designed for breaking him to American audiences, was released stateside in the spring of 1999. The album, Swing when You’re Winning proved beyond all doubt that Williams had won over the UK tabloids, music press and record buying public. This extremely successful cover album of swing songs saw him duet with Nicole Kidman and, through the magic of technology, he was able to sing with Sinatra himself, for the song It Was A Very Good Year.
During 2002, he celebrated an enormous new contract with EMI, making him “rich beyond my wildest dreams”, but suffered the loss of his long time production partner, Guy Chambers. Escapology, his fifth album sold millions of copies in Europe, though American audiences were still not persuaded.
Today, Robbie’s back with the very catchy single, Tripping, and we’re not quite sure just how he gets those high notes – it’s probably best left unanswered! If you want to see arguably Britain’s most popular showman in action, an artist who has been at the forefront of British music for more than a decade, Robbie will be performing at the upcoming MTV European Music Awards in Lisbon’s Pavilhão Atlântico. The show is on November 3 and you can get your tickets, costing 50 euros, from Fnac, El Corte Inglés and Pavilhão Atlântico.