Pleasurably Guilty

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If you’ve ever sat down and really pondered what, exactly what, would it sound like if a member of such Satan-spawn prefab four-or-five outfits such as Backstreet Boys, N’Sync (yadda, yadda, yadda ad nauseam) would record if he stumbled his way through the pop-star looking glass, precious, teen-swoon-inducing voice intact, but wiser, cheekier and self-aware for surviving the shards of falling glass, you now have your answer — available at record stores everywhere. Incidentally, if you really have ever sat down and thought that question through, you need to either check your head or send off a résumé c/o the Metro Times Music Cabal Dept. immediately! But back to the issue at hand: Mr. Robbie Williams.

While such former New Kids as Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre milk their 15 ticks for a few precious sugar-spun licks on the pop world teat, Williams, a former member of British girl-toy/pop phenom troupe Take That, steps back from the fray enough to laugh at it and himself in pitch-perfect, guilty-pleasure, just-this-side-of-plastic pop warblings on this, his debut collection stateside. Now, I don’t slave over the NME or anything, so check me if I’m wrong, but Williams seems to have spared himself the humiliation of bungling through the kind of public growing pains — such as ill-advised hip-hop moves, gangsta wannabe behavior and the like — that have landed such former heartthrobs as Donnie (né Don) Wahlberg and Bobby "Mr. Houston" Brown in the music career netherworld. (Though, apparently, he did spend some time erasing lines on mirrors with his nasal passages alongside Brit badboys Oasis’ Gallagher Brothers.)

Instead, Williams has co-written, performed and co-produced this pack of ingratiating ballads, groovers and ditties that lands him on Limey terra firma somewhere between the shameless craftiness of Elton John and the crafty shamelessness of the Pet Shop Boys — whose Neil Tennant adds guest vocals here. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll catch yourself humming as you leave the Gap, but there are a gaggle of shamelessly clever, self-deprecating, lyrical hooks and grandiose arena rock-worthy blasts that’ll catch you blushing as you watch the cute kids smooching outside the food court.

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