Robbie Williams: In & Out of Consciousness: The Greatest Hits 1990-2010

RIYL: George Michael, Madonna, Take That

Your philosophical question of the day: if a label releases a two-disc, 39-song collection of songs (three discs and 56 songs if you get the deluxe edition) from an artist who never cracked the Top 40 and only appeared in the Hot 100 twice, is it an act of hubris, or charity?

The answer is, in fact, an act of contractual obligation. In & Out of Consciousness: The Greatest Hits fulfills the gargantuan £80 million contract Robbie Williams signed with EMI in 2002, chronicling every song released as a single in his native England. Here’s an staggering statistic: only four of these songs failed to crack the UK Top 10, and only one of them missed the Top 40. That’s damned impressive no matter how you slice it, but every artist has a few hits that were successful in spite of themselves, only to show their cracks with the benefit of hindsight. How have Williams’ songs held up?

Surprisingly well, it turns out, though in a curious move, the album is sequenced in reverse chronological order. That’s an original move, to be sure, but not necessarily the best one for these songs; nearly every single from Williams’ first three albums was a classic, from the stadium-rattling “Let Me Entertain You” to the monster sing-along ballad “Angels” to the slinky “Kids,” a duet with fellow UK chart dominatrix Kylie Minogue. Leading with those songs would have been the smarter play, because while the front half of Disc I includes gems like “Bodies” and the hilarious white-boy funker “Rudebox,” the back half contains “Sin Sin Sin,” “Advertising Space” and Williams’ cover of “Mr. Bojangles” (!), which nearly derails the proceedings before they’ve had a chance to get off the ground. Overall, though, In & Out of Consciousness packs considerable bang for the buck, and will serve as an excellent introduction for Anglo-minded Yanks wondering what the fuss is all about. (Astralwerks 2010)

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