Robbie Williams' Rudebox was one of the most enjoyable records of his career, but it wasn't a commercial success. Its follow-up, Reality Killed the Video Star, attempts to right the ship, and as such, it becomes everything its predecessor was not. Recorded with a single producer, the estimable Trevor Horn, but encompassing songs and sessions with a variety of writing partners (Guy Chambers and Soul Mekanik, among others), the songs sound rushed and the performances lackluster. Given an MOR blockbuster production by Horn, and with arrangements by his longtime co-writer Anne Dudley, Reality Killed the Video Star certainly has the sound it needs to succeed with Williams' aging audience and clean up on BBC Radio 2. Granted, Robbie Williams is an excellent ballads singer, well-suited for this grandiose backing, but unfortunately the lyrics don't stand up to the pressure. "Blasphemy" has the worst offenders, beginning with "What's so great about the great depression?/Was it a blast for you? 'Cause it's blasphemy." One song later, Williams declares "This is a song full of metaphors," then fills it with a chorus beyond mindless: "Do, ooh ooh, ooh, ooh ya mind/If I, I-I, I, I, I-I-I touch you?" At least the album is front-loaded with quality, beginning with "Morning Sun," the best and most deeply felt song on the album. Apparently written after the death of Michael Jackson, it begins with a classic example of the taken-two-ways lyric: "How do you rate the morning sun." Second is "Bodies," the first song to be released from the album, and it's the last glimpse of clear quality and inventiveness on the entire album. Reality Killed the Video Star may not be a denouement for Robbie Williams; it's not decidedly worse than 2002's Escapology, it's just bad in a different way. Whereas Escapology found Robbie disappearing into his own neuroses, this one is a hopeless mélange of satire and sincerity where, from song to song, neither can immediately be distinguished.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush