1 December 1997 saw the release of Angels, a new single by Robbie Williams. Few cared. Williams (born in 1974) was viewed as a self-regarding buffoon, overweight and without future following his rancorous exit from Take That in 1995.
Yet Angels was an utterly beautiful ballad. The up-tempo follow-up, Let Me Entertain You, was a superb “I am” anthem. Both were co-written by the artist.
Nobody had suspected, but Williams had a gift for intelligent (and often hilarious) lyrics. He found a perfect musical foil in Guy Chambers, who also acted as producer.
His debut album, Life Thru A Lens (1997) rose from the ashes to elevate Williams as arguably the biggest British pop icon for a generation.
I’ve Been Expecting You (1998) entered the UK album charts at #1 and sealed his reputation as one of the UK’s biggest stars. By the end of the year he’d had seven UK Top Ten hits since going solo in 1996.
Inexplicably though, after five albums, Williams broke up his partnership with Guy Chambers. Always a tormented figure, the fact of “merely” being a great lyricist and performer bothered him. Illogically he then hooked up with another musical foil, Stephen Duffy.
The subsequent album, Intensive Care (2005) did well, but by Rudebox (2006) – featuring a bewildering number of co-writers – the fact that Chambers had taken a lot of the magic with him had finally sunk in, and the LP flopped.