Billed as a comeback album after its predecessor, 2007’s Rudebox, proved to be a gross misreading of the U.K. pop climate, Robbie Williams’s Reality Killed the Video Star arrives stateside unburdened by any expectations for an artistic or commercial rebound. Despite a couple of false starts, Williams has never approached the same degree of success in the United States as he has enjoyed on the international scene, where he is a bona fide superstar. With its primary context skewed by this key detail, the most important consideration for Reality is whether or not it’s the album that could finally break Williams to U.S. audiences. That seems unlikely. Other than lead single “Bodies,” which recalibrates the electro-pop of Rudebox to a more radio-friendly effect, and the Lady GaGa-style “Last Days of Disco,” the songs here too often return to the heavy balladry and slick adult-pop of Williams’s earlier recordings that did not find favor with American audiences. “Morning Sun” and “Somewhere” both recall the pop schmaltz of lingering AC staple “Angels,” Williams’s biggest U.S. hit, while the uptempo cuts “Do You Mind” and “Difficult for Weirdos” lack the swagger and cheekiness of should-have-been-hits “Millennium” and “Rock DJ.” Williams is one of pop’s best smartasses, and he has always had a fascinating love-hate relationship with his own celebrity, so attempts at maturity on songs like “Won’t Do That” and “Blasphemy” come across as ill-fitting and strident. By downplaying Williams’s formerly irrepressible charm, Reality simply doesn’t make for an effective reintroduction to one of the U.S. pop market’s biggest missed opportunities.
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