XXV (Deluxe Edition)
Arriving 25 years to the month since the release of his debut solo album Life Thru a Lens, Robbie Williams’ XXV surveys his first quarter-century as a solo artist by reupholstering a clutch of his hits with Dutch jazz and pop orchestra Metropole Orkest. Plenty of those songs—“Feel,” “Come Undone,” “Angels”—were built with aerodynamic choruses that beg to be lifted a little further and higher by some orchestral thermals, so it’s no surprise that this proves to be a successful and satisfying venture. It’s not just a case of bolting (more) strings and brass onto the tracks, though. With the assistance of longtime collaborators Guy Chambers and Steve Sidwell, plus conductor Jules Buckley, arrangements are deconstructed, tempos tweaked, and lyrics rethought to bring new tones and perspectives to some pop gems. Originally a frustrated parting swipe at his former Take That bandmates, “No Regrets” gets added drama with bracing stabs of noise from the orchestra. It’s all in the service of reconciliation, though, as Williams changes the final line from “I guess the love we once had is officially dead” to “I guess the love we once had is officially undead.” The Metropole Orkest keep themselves to a gentle shimmer while “She’s the One” is reworked into a meditative country ballad, and Williams betrays the wisdom of age and experience on “Come Undone,” where the line “I’m not scared of dying, I just don’t want to” rings with more defiance and less despair than it once did. As for clues about where Williams will head over the next 25 years, the suggestion to be drawn from the four new tracks here is that he’ll retain his sense of musical adventure, arched-eyebrow wit, and the lessons of a life lived. The orchestral pop of “Lost” and “The World and Her Mother” takes a rueful look back on wilder days, while “More Than This” is heart-swelling pop-rock that offers an arm around the shoulder in dark times. “Disco Symphony” is everything the title suggests—a strings-assisted trip to the dance floor that begins, “Another floor filler from your tortured singer/You’ve been singing other songs but I’ll forgive ya.” Twenty-five years on, there’s clearly more to come.