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It Was 12 Years Ago Today: Steve Pafford does Robbie Williams in the Rudebox review

One could be forgiven for thinking Robbie really has “gone gay”, if his latest “experimental dance” opus is anything to go by.

Rudebox has constant references to bum-sex including the Robster being on the receiving end. “So sick, I just had to take it”.

The insanely catchy next single Lovelight, with its pitch-perfect falsetto disco, does the unthinkable and manages to out-camp the Scissor Sisters.

Lyrically the alluring electro-ballad Burslem Normals is a bitter Morrissey-inspired barb against Burberry bling chav culture, though the music is pure ABBA-esque Erasure, only with a more expensive synthesizer.

Speaking of synth duos, he then ropes in his and our favourite double act Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe on two of the most accessible tracks here: We’re The Pet Shop Boys is a hard-edged cover of a cover where the narrator wistfully reflects back to a time in the Eighties when he and his lover thought of themselves as the Pet Shop Boys.

PSB crop up again on She’s Madonna, a gloriously Motown-eque sweeping synth anthem that nods to many of the pop duos past hits with a ridiculously rampant Robbie vocal. It’s possibly the best thing Robbie or the Pets have put their name to for aeons. So ignore my tittle-tattle on which way Robbie is well swung, because, on the face of it, the song seems to provide ‘proof’ of Robbie’s heterosexuality. With a chorus of ‘I love you baby, but face it, she’s Madonna/No man on earth could say he don’t want her. But hang on, surely even someone as buffeted from the real world as him would know that the 48-year old Madge vadge is about as appealing to the straight male population as rice pudding? Ah, she’s one of those ‘gay icon’ type thingies, yes? I get it now.

Elsewhere there’s an intriguing ragbag of ideas, from solid covers of ’80s Pop faves Louise and Kiss Me (Human League and current writing foil Stephen ’TinTin’ Duffy respectively), Hunky Dory-era Bowie tributes (Viva Life On Mars and The Actor) and a Streets-lite two-part autobiographical suite The 80s and The 90s, where lyrics such as ’It’s nice that you’ve got a mansion/While I’m treated like the drummer from Hanson” prove that the ex-boybander’s post-Take That trauma is still as evident and as brilliantly twisted as ever. Strange fascination indeed. ****

Steve Pafford

First published: Gay Times, October 2006

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