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.
Subsequent singles, like the vulnerable Strong and the sensual Feel, were modern classics, but there were equally fine album tracks too, like the amazing horn-swept extravaganza Me and My Monkey.
Inexplicably though, after five albums, Williams broke up the partnership. 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.