Release Date: November 22nd 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Robbie Williams – The Christmas Present (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Winter Wonderland
- Merry Christmas Everybody (feat. Jamie Cullum)
- Let it Snow
- The Christmas Song
- Coco’s Christmas Lullaby
- Yeah! It’s Christmas
- It’s a Wonderful Life (feat. Poppa Pete)
- Let’s Not Go Shopping
- Santa Baby (feat. Helene Fischer)
- Best Christmas Ever
- One Last Christmas
- Coco’s Christmas Lullaby Reprise
- Time For Change
- Darkest Night
- Fairytales (feat. Rod Stewart)
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (feat. Bryan Adams)
- Bad Sharon (feat. Tyson Fury)
- Happy Birthday Jesus Christ
- New Year’s Day
- Soul Transmission
- I Believe In Father Christmas
- Not Christmas
- Merry Kissmas
- It Takes Two (feat. Rod Stewart)
Robbie Williams is a legend in his own right. He doesn’t need to explain his song choices to anyone, nor does he need to explain why his Christmas album is the first release since 2016’s The Heavy Entertainment Show. Born in the 1970s and making music ever since his band Take That (and then making his name as a solo artist from the mid-1990s onward); Robbie’s ability to craft and create songs that strike a chord with listeners around the world, is why he’s still standing in the 2020s, still making music, and still delivering songs that speak to us all, years upon years later from whence he started his solo career in 1997 with his album Life Thru and Lens and his chart-topping singles from that album, songs like ‘Angels’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Robbie has been part of the industry for quite some time, and even though I haven’t really listened to his music over the years, I’ve still listened here and there. His impact and influence on not only British music, but music full stop, is certainly something that needs to be unpacked further, and it will definitely be so, as my brother will write about Robbie and his influence and impact in a blog post coming up in the next month or so. His impact in music is certainly unparalleled, and considering that his personality and charm is larger than life, alongside his accolades and awards; then, it seems like a no-brainer that we’re going to blog about him, right? It’s been said that Robbie’s sold more albums in the UK than any other solo British artist in the history of music itself, and that he’s won more BRIT awards than any other artist…surely that and that alone would be reason enough to discuss Robbie’s music in this upcoming blog post…right? Till that time arises, and Josh delves into Robbie’s music and discusses why he believes Robbie is a crucial part of music and its rich history; I’ve been listening to some of Robbie’s music on my own. No, it’s not any of his studio albums previously, but rather his 2019 Christmas album The Christmas Present. His first holiday album he’s created in all of his career; Robbie’s unparalleled success in albums past, should automatically mean that this Christmas album is a similar success, right?
Let me just preface this ‘review’; and say that I fully respect Robbie and his career thus far. While I haven’t been as familiar with his music over the years, I do know that his success in the U.K. and around the world has been due to his ability in creating songs throughout his career, that are stylistically and genre-wise…well, different; from the early pop-radio friendly material of the 1990s/early 2000s, to his rock late-2000s era, then followed by swing music, and then back to rock in 2016 with The Heavy Entertainment Show. So when it was time for him to release something different in 2019, a Christmas album, I, along with I’m sure the whole world; decided to sit up and take interest. Because honestly, if we’re being frank and open, then there are indeed a lot of Christmas albums released each year…sometimes too much, if I were to offer my humble opinion. There’s only a select few holiday songs and Christmas carols out there, and you can only hear sooooo many covers of ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Away in a Manger’ before you become frustrated, upset, and irate. So I’m sure my reaction was just like everybody else’s upon hearing Robbie was releasing a Christmas album…confused? Yes, Robbie didn’t release a Christmas album prior to 2019, so maybe he felt like he wanted to ‘get on the bandwagon’ as people say? Whatever the case and whatever the motivations behind the Christmas album, the fact of the matter remains- that the Christmas album is released, and it stands…at a whopping 28 tracks, across 2 discs. Yes, you heard that right. 28 tracks to summon in the holiday season, with festive cheer, familiar holiday songs…and a whole lot of original material.
Now hear me when I say that I’m not against original Christmas music. Some of my favourite songs I have on repeat during the month of December have been originally written Christmas songs, songs like ‘Christmas Card’ (Steven Curtis Chapman), ‘Hallelujah (Light Has Come)’ (BarlowGirl), ‘The Heart of Christmas’ (Matthew West), ‘I Believe’ (Natalie Grant), ‘Jesus is Alive’ (Josh Wilson), ‘Baby Boy’ (for KING & COUNTRY), ‘Labour of Love’ (Andrew Peterson), ‘The Christmas Shoes’ (Newsong), ‘Light of the World’ (Lauren Daigle), and ‘You’re Here’ (Francesca Battistelli); to name a few. So colour me intrigued and interested to say the least when Robbie released his Christmas album 2 years ago in 2019, full of 21 originally written Christmas songs. Yes, you heard me right. 21 out of the 28 were written, full or in part, by Robbie Williams. And though I’m a fan of originally written Christmas music like the next guy…let’s just say that 21 originally written Christmas songs in a track list of 28 is way too much. Sure there are a few Christmas songs that stand out in this 28 track list- ‘Home’ speaks about a togetherness that the Christmas season can foster and bring forth during the month of December, and how being home for Christmas is just as important as being home for birthdays and anniversaries; while ‘Darkest Night’ speaks about people want connection during Christmastime, even settling for the physical sexual connection when they’re really searching and yearning for the emotional and heartfelt connection that people in deeper relationships have. ‘Time For Change’, the album’s first single, speaks about new beginnings, and reminds us all that this season in December is a time for us to start over. As we gather together with family and friends, forgiveness, self-reflection, a clearer understanding for someone of a different POV, and all-round positivity and joy; ought to be things we should strive for, each and every December-time, and this song has given us just that.
‘One Last Christmas’ speaks about a father trying to make amends to his son, apologising for his life’s choices, and asking for forgiveness from people that may be the last, who ought to forgive them. Forgiveness is a very odd thing- there’s no guarantee that the person you forgive would change their ways, and the very act of forgiveness itself impacts the person forgiving on a much grander scale compared to the person who’s been forgiven. To forgive means to set aside any agendas and misconceptions, assumptions, and preconceived ideas. To forgive requires bravery and guts, and a little bit of help from Christ Himself. ‘Happy Birthday Jesus Christ’ is a…satirical (????) song about Jesus, and Robbie (who probably isn’t a Christian) giving thanks for the life of Jesus, and trying, in his own way, to describe what he thinks Jesus is to him. And this is the song that is a result of being vulnerable and honest about what Jesus means. And for that I ought to give him kudos. Because I don’t think any mainstream artist has spoken openly (in a good way or a bad way) about Christ. Sure, they’ve sung the Christmas carols that are most definitely biblical in every way. But every man and his dog, every mainstream artist has sung these songs. It’s a part of our Christmas culture. People who aren’t necessarily Christians sing these carols with fervent abandon and passion- so for Robbie to have a hand in writing ‘Happy Birthday Jesus Christ’ and sing it, even if the song itself hardly ever speaks about the real reason why Jesus came to Earth, is nevertheless remarkable. ‘Happy Birthday Jesus Christ’ ought to be a step into a direction where mainstream artists (who may or may not be Christians themselves) write their own songs about what they think about Christ. Then, and only then, will there be much more honesty, tolerance, acceptance and respect over people’s differing opinions and views about this holiday called Christmas that people seem to assume to be of different importance, depending on the beliefs that you have.
Throughout the rest of Robbie’s humungous track-list, several other originally written songs stand out that continue to remind us that oftentimes original music has more heart, enthusiasm and passion compared to the carols. ‘Let’s Not Go Shopping’ really tries to undo the set assumptions people have during the Christmas holiday season, that shopping for the biggest and best thing for someone is something we all need to partake in- this song flips this notion on its head and states that shopping ought not to be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of Christmastime; while ‘Best Christmas Ever’ allows us all to look deep into our childhood and see what constitutes our own ‘best Christmas ever’ and whether people telling their children that Santa isn’t real, leads to people either having their ‘best Christmas ever’ or their ‘worst Christmas ever’- and if telling them in the first place is even necessary. ‘Idlewild’ tells a story about a persona and their first (or maybe even only) love, with the song retelling their life and depicting how Christmas is the opportunity for new beginnings and exciting things if we only let God in (or how people would call it, ‘love’, ‘fate’, ‘the universe’) and we see the wonderful things happen as a result.
‘Fairytales’ is a perfect duet Robbie has with Rod Stewart, as we see an anthem in the making, to declare as Christmas comes around each year. ‘Fairytales’ calls for us to ‘restart’ during the Christmas season, as we believe that no year is too late for us to make a shift in our thinking, as we seek to do better in the upcoming year ahead. ‘New Year’s Day’ speaks of this theme and issue of making amends, and that sometimes Christmas can evoke feelings of regret in people, as we understand that this holiday season brings us things for people that the other 11 months don’t. We think about our lives and take stock, and realise that if we were to die tonight (as the song suggests), we ought to hopefully believe that we leave this earth with our friendships intact and our family bonds strong…but if we don’t think that would be the case, then, we’d have to make amends before then, right? ‘Soul Condition’ is an existential look at life and really asking the questions of why, why do we think about life and all the heavy questions around Christmastime? Because we don’t think about those things the other 11 months of the year. Maybe it’s because we realise that present buying is so futile, that we want something else to matter to us during Christmas. ‘Not Christmas’ arguably could be the most vulnerable original Christmas song yet, as Robbie invites us into a story where the persona unveils to us listeners of his abuse at the hand of family members and friends, every time people come together for the Christmas holidays. Whether the song is actually about Robbie’s life or not remains to be seen, but the message still remains- that sometimes, in extreme cases, you can’t do Christmas with your family because of said relationship-breakdown, and the trauma and abuse that’s been felt all these years with family members. ‘Not Christmas’ does tell a story about a bleak outlook and option for Christmas, but it’s nevertheless a realistic one. Some people don’t have the luxury of having Christmastime with friends and family, and their Christmas could consist of verbal abuse, or alone time, or just a time they want to forget. ‘Not Christmas’ is a sobering outlook on what other people’s lives can be during Christmastime, as we’re called on to have empathy for people in different situations than our own.
One major drawback to this album as a whole are its original tracks, even though I still firmly believe that it’s Robbie’s original Christmas songs that make this album unique, quirky, and interesting. Maybe it’s because that I firmly believe that 21 original tracks in a track list of 28 is most definitely daunting, and to be honest, if a Christmas album is full of unfamiliar songs, people tend to steer clear away from it, no matter how ‘good’ the album is. Because to be honest, if I wasn’t reviewing this album, I probably wouldn’t have listened to Robbie’s Christmas album. Not because I don’t want to listen to new things…but there’s just something odd about a Christmas album that hardly resembles a Christmas album. Nevertheless, I did decide to review this album, and I’m glad that I did. The Christmas Present is an album that continues to solidify Robbie’s presence within the music industry, and reminds us, all that original Christmas material is what I myself get excited about each Christmas. Having said that, I too think that 21 original songs in a track list of 28 is way too much, maybe release an album of 14 or 15 songs and then save the rest for a few years’ time? Nevertheless, this album was released, and to be frank and honest, if I wasn’t reviewing this album, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it- that how the first impression was of this album. Regardless, The Christmas Present is still one of the most left-field albums over the past few years that have actually turned out to be really good. This album is a must for anyone who is a Robbie Williams enthusiast, or even for anyone who wants to listen to a whole bunch of original Christmas songs. Just giving awareness that this album would take a good 2-3 times listen-through before actually appreciating it fully. Robbie’s strengths (original songs) unfortunately would cause this album’s ‘boycott’ (too many unfamiliar tracks), but what the album would do, is remind us that we all need to have a white Christmas sometime in our lives- that’s just a fact. Well done Robbie for this collection of Christmas songs, here’s hoping people look past the initial ‘daunting’ factor and take a plunge and listen. Who knows, this album could be one of your favourite Christmas albums in the last few years. I know it’s been a favourite of mine as well.
5 songs to listen to: Home, Darkest Night, Time For Change, One Last Christmas, Happy Birthday Jesus Christ
RIYL: Take That, Gary Barlow, Ronan Keating, Leona Lewis, Craig David