Friday, 5 February 2010

2001 Robbie Williams: Eternity/The Road To Mandalay

A double A side (to the point of having complementary promotional videos), 'Eternity' sees Williams drop the court jester act for a work of more sober introspection apparently inspired by his relationship with Geri Halliwell. "You were there for summer dreaming, and you gave me what I need. And I hope you find your freedom, for eternity" - I don't doubt Williams' sincerity on this tribute to friendship; 'Eternity' has a vague Scott Walker circa 1968 air about it's melody that's pleasing, and it's refreshing to hear Williams forego his usually cocky swagger to supply a vocal of cracked humility. That much is good. But unlike the lush arrangements that gave Walker's songs the sweep of the majestic, 'Eternity' has the unfinished 'on the hoof' shakiness of a piano led demo waiting for a sprinkle of fairy dust to make it complete. That doesn't detract from the song itself per se, but like hearing the many pieced together bootleg versions of the Beach Boys 'lost' SMiLE album, it does kind of make me long to hear a different version that doesn't exist, which in turn adds a mild frustration in knowing that it could have.

'The Road To Mandalay' carries on the same downbeat theme via a back to basics acoustic picked melody opener and a self flagellating lyric of personal regret -"Every mistake I've ever made, has been rehashed and then replayed as I got lost along the way". But then the mood soon turns chipper with a "Bum-bum-bum bu-du dum-bum-bum" marching refrain that digs in the spurs to usher in a spirited shuffle that carries the song to the end and adds some sun to take the edge off the shadows cast by Robbie's confessional. In keeping the vague late sixties mood, in its tone and substance 'The Road To Mandalay' reminds of Small Faces' 'The Universal', and like that song it would have benefited from stopping well short of the three minute mark. Because for all its initial appeal, 'The Road To Mandalay' shows all its cards early and its hand becomes more of an indulgence the longer its played. A flawed release then, but in truth I wouldn't turn either song off if they came on the radio.

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