/ 30 November 2006

That’s Mr Williams to you

Robert Peter Williams has come of age. From the ex-Take That member and solo success story comes an album that would make your grandfather proud. Swing When You’re Winning (EMI) could be two things: a shamelessly expedient exercise to capitalise on the Brit-American big-band swing revival, or simply one talented performer’s dedicated and at times quite masterful tribute to the roots of true cool. I’ll bet a five-olive martini on the latter.

As the liner notes rhapsodise, having done a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra’s Have You Met Miss Jones for Bridget Jones’s Diary, his childhood memories of growing up in Stoke to the mellow tones of Dean, Frank and Sammy were roused. Cue the Robbie Williams production machine, booking Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ ex-backing band and some entertaining duet partners, including Jon Lovitz on Well Did You Evah?, Jane Horrocks on Things and Rupert Everett on They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Somethin’ Stupid, schmoozed alongside Nicole Kidman, is tipped for the coveted Christmas number-one slot in the United Kingdom.

If anything, what this album reveals is that Williams can give it stick — his version of Mack the Knife, recorded in one straight take, would make Bobby Darin eat his lounge shirt. Close your eyes when listening to Mr Bojangles and Sammy Davis Jnr is right behind you. He croons the first half of It Was a Very Good Year and lets Sinatra complete the ballad. Full of banter and a hidden track that is easy to miss, the album’s highlight is the buddy anthem Me and My Shadow, accompanied by Williams’s real-life best buddy Jonathan Wilkes.

In a cheeky contemporary twist, the lyric in the Sinatra-Davis original Closer than Bobby is to JFK becomes ‘closer than Ricky to confessin’ he’s gay”.

Williams’s larger-than-life, excessive personality shines as bright as a Las Vegas strip and well lives up to the reputations of his equally larger-than-life forebears. Swelegant!

M-Net broadcasts Robbie Williams: Live at the Albert 2001 on December 16 at 7pm, featuring a 58-piece big band and special guests