Robbie is back with his second swing album effort, after 2001’s hugely successful Swing When You’re Winning. Now Robbie might not be ‘winning’ as much as he was back in 2001, having recently been told he’s not current enough for BBC’s main pop station Radio 1, but that doesn’t mean he’s giving up. Swings Both Way’s proves Williams still has a lot of musical talent left in the locker, no matter what genre he tries.
This album differs from the first swing record of Robbie’s, by actually including 7 original swing songs, penned with long-time writing partner Guy Chambers, as well as some swing classics and famous vocals popping up along the way. Robbie and Olly Murs take on I Wanna Be Like You, most famed for being the song from Disney’s The Jungle Book movie, and as always, it’s catchy as hell. You can tell they had a great time recording it and play off each other throughout the song in the only way confident stars can. Complete with ‘shoobiedoos’ and ape noises, it’s one of the albums most fun tracks. Puttin’ on the Ritz is another classic you can’t go wrong with, and Robbie’s version is upbeat, full of energy and features some great musicianship from the band, it’ll have you feelin’ swell in no time. Minnie the Moocher makes an appearance, but it’s one of those songs that perhaps has been overused and covered many times before so it’s hard to do anything different with it, hopefully Robbie’s diverse listeners will give the song a few new fans.
Williams was brave to put some of his own swing tracks on the album. Fail and he could be ridiculed for being out of his league, succeed and he could gain high accolades. It turns out his own songs on Swings Both Ways are a mix of the good and not so good. Go Gentle has a great high-rising chorus, simple and effective. Swing supreme is a great version of one of Robbie’s earlier songs, working itself up into a musical lather and a fine burst of instruments, but album-titled track Swings Both Way’s is the album highlight for Robbie’s own compositions. Featuring Rufus Wainwright, it has a lovely creeping baseline topped with a west end musical vibe, and brings a smile to your face with its cheeky and fun lyrics, “everybody swings both ways, face it Robbie, you’re a little bit gay” croons Rufus, full of charm.
On the flipside, Album opener Shine my Shoes, although featuring a nice wind up, feels a little repetitive and in need of a hook, and Soda Pop sounds like an attempt to recreate the success of Christina Aguilera’s Candy Man, but it’s just not as good.
No One Likes A Fat PopStar is definitely the marmite song of the album. Some will find it clever and amusing, while others will find it strange, with Robbie somehow mentioning kebabs in a swing song. “You just can’t be portly this side of forty” sings Williams, unashamed of his age.
Swings Both Ways has some great covers, and Williams should be commended for having the guts to put some of his own stuff on there, half of them being decent and living up to the albums expectations. The balance needs to be correct though, and it may have fared well to have a couple more covers on there, maybe trying something completely new with them. The record shouldn’t be dismissed though as you’ll be clicking your fingers along, looking for your best suit or dress and ready to find the nearest swing joint in no time.