27 mayo 2009

Take that, Robbie

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As Gary Barlow and Co gear up for a record-breaking tour, Robbie Williams is out in the cold, writes Damian Corless

I don't want you back, and that's for good. That was the blunt message delivered by Take That leader Gary Barlow to ex-member Robbie Williams, slamming the door shut on any prospect of a reunion.

"We're a happy band right now," crowed Barlow. "Robbie won't be joining."

The reason for Barlow's bullish mood is because Take That's upcoming stadium jaunt has become the fastest selling tour in history, with 700,000 tickets being snapped up in one day. The tour reaches Ireland on Saturday June 13, when the Mancunian heart-throbs play the 80,000-capacity Croke Park.

If Williams isn't quite in the gutter staring up at the stars, he currently finds himself in the position of watching his former bandmates scale the heights for a second time while his own career hits the skids.

The streamlined Take That surpassed all expectations when their 2006 comeback album Beautiful World sold over two and a half million copies in the UK alone, while last year's The Circus is also pushing the two million mark and was certified eight times platinum in Ireland.

It was all very different three years ago when tickets went on sale for Williams' 2006 world tour which kicked off in Dublin.

In a single day 1.6 million tickets were snapped up by the fans who had bought over 50 million solo albums. As Williams was lording it as Master Of The Universe, his former pals were attempting to launch a comeback. One big hope was that Robbie might provide a splash of stellar publicity by joining them on stage.

Take That released a fawning statement saying: "While we've been on holiday, he's been taking the world by storm. The door is always open for Rob. If ever he's bored one day and we're on the road and he wants to come and sing a song, we're always ready to do that."

Since then, the world of both acts has turned upside down. Not long after Williams exited the boy band in 1995 the other four went their separate ways. It was no time before none of them could get arrested.

Williams' career was also petering out until, on a lost weekend in Dublin, he ran into a local songwriter who had the bones of the song 'Angels'.

Sprinkled with studio magic, 'Angels' transformed Williams into a megastar, everywhere except the planet's biggest pop market, the United States. Barlow recalled "watching with horror" as Robbie's career went stratospheric as his own went down the tube.

His failure to break the States bruised Williams' notoriously fragile self-esteem. For someone able to whip 80,000 fans into a frenzy, the singer has repeatedly shown himself to carry a chip on both shoulders.

In the years after quitting Take That he just could not let it lie with Barlow ("a c**t with a briefcase") and ex-manager Nigel Martin Smith. The latter took legal action after being targeted in the venomous song 'No Regrets'.

Williams' appetite for a fight didn't end there.

Having become best pals with Oasis immediately after leaving Take That, the relationship soured to the point where Williams even marked the release of one Oasis album by sending Noel Gallagher a wreath inscribed "with deepest sympathy".

Gallagher's contribution to the public feud included branding Williams "the fat dancer from Take That".

Williams' ballooning weight is one sign of a personality crisis. Last year, heavily bearded, puffy eyed and jowly, he broke a long period of solitude to resurface looking like Oliver Reed on one of his off days.

Around the same time he declared that he was on strike and would not be delivering any new material to his record label, EMI, while describing his new label boss as behaving like a tyrannical plantation owner.

Williams owes EMI one more album of new material under a colossal renewal deal signed in 2002 which paid him a reported €100m. While the payout may have seemed like good business to EMI at the time, it now looks insane.

The first signs of crisis for EMI materialised in late 2006 with the release of Williams' album Rudebox. Alarm bells started going off long before Rudebox reached the ears of the public, with Williams making comments such as: "Rudebox is loads of different things. Sometimes it could be a vibe delivered in a spaceship direct to the studio. Sometimes it's actually a box that tells you to piss off."

When the album appeared for the crucial Christmas sales, Rudebox was roundly panned as beyond dire. One reviewer deemed it "so spectacularly misconceived that it will decimate his fanbase at a stroke".

Another delivered the brutal verdict: "The worst record I have ever heard". A third said it was "packed with half-baked ideas, bad jokes, music that any other star of Williams' stature would be terrified of the general public hearing".

Having sacked his songwriting partner and made a dog's dinner of an album, he then declined to board the promotional treadmill. As the critics predicted, Rudebox did indeed decimate his fanbase at a stroke. In the run-up to Christmas 2006, the release was selling a miserable 38,000 copies a week.

Earlier efforts such as I've Been Expecting You and Sing When Your Winning had flown off the shelves at 10 times that rate. In the immediate aftermath, EMI sacked the head of its record division and announced a €160m cost-cutting plan resulting in mass redundancies.

Having deliberately and defiantly made an album that would weird-out his broad fanbase, Williams appears to have reacted badly to its abject failure.

In 2007 he checked into rehab for addiction to prescription drugs on the same day as Take That were collecting gongs at the Brit Awards.

He was no stranger to rehab, having previously sought help to get off drugs of the illicit kind. He later confessed that he'd taken so much ecstasy in the period after leaving Take That, that he'd depleted his body's serotonin (the hormone that regulates mood) to the point that he lived in a state of constant depression.

That morose mindset seemed evident two years ago when he said that he didn't want to bring children into the world, saying: "What's the point? I can't guarantee my child won't suffer pain, because that kid is going to be in pain at some point in their life."

Having previously stated that he didn't know if he wanted to be in a relationship he has settled into one with the American actress Ayda Field.

Early this year, seemingly giving up on ever cracking the US market, Williams whisked Field off from sunny California to rainy Swindon where he regularly plays poker at the local casino.

Last year he stated that his other chief interest is surfing the internet for true stories of UFOs.

Current reports on the site he mentioned include 200,000-Year-Old Statue Found On The Moon and Alien Giants Land In Russia.

The cheeky chappy who charmed millions clearly has issues to resolve. His gloom won't be lifted by a new survey of Take That fans which concluded that two out of three are content to let him go whistle.

Where it all began for the boys

1989

Stirred by the huge success of clean-cut US outfit New Kids On The Block, would-be pop mogul Nigel Martin-Smith auditions for a boy band in Manchester. Songwriter Gary Barlow (18) is installed as leader, with Robbie Williams (15) a last-minute addition.

1993

The album Everything Changes spawns four No1 singles and sends them stratospheric from Manchester to Manilla.

1995

Back For Good hits No1 in 31 countries. Williams quits, claiming his creative ideas have been sidelined by Barlow and his manager.

1996

The remaining four members disband having sold 19 million albums. Barlow and Mark Owen have fleeting solo success before dropping from sight. Despite moderate success Williams' career looks over.

1997

On a boozy weekend in Dublin, Williams encounters songwriter Ray Heffernan who has a song called Angels. Tweaked by songwriter Guy Chambers, it becomes a global hit, launching him to international superstardom.

2005

Williams prepares for another sell-out stadium tour while his four ex-colleagues get together for a tentative reunion. Their comeback album Beautiful World is a hit.

2009

Inactive since the failure of his 2006 album Rudebox, Williams says "it would make sense" to reunite with Take That. Sitting pretty in the charts and preparing for another sell-out stadium tour, Gary Barlow says thanks, but no thanks.

Take That play Croke Park, Dublin, on Saturday June 13

Fuente : The Independent

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