Song Of The Week - Robbie Williams - Come Undone
Last week’s SOTW extolled the virtues and uniqueness of American Pop (maybe it’s the Rickenbackers.) This week we’re having a quick peep at its British counterpart and here we find a completely different beast.
Britain has always been brilliant at producing bands – from The Beatles to the Sex Pistols to Oasis and beyond. But when it comes to producing solo artists – and that tends to be male solo artists – it’s fair to say Britain has produced some of the most fucked up individuals in the history of pop music. John Lennon said it best when he pointed out that at the height of worldwide Beatlemania, when he had one of the four most famous faces on the planet he was standing on a stage in front of millions of screaming acolytes and he was shouting “Help!”
He then went on to launch a solo career by primal screaming for his dead mother to come home, whilst declaring that God was a concept and he didn’t believe in Bob Dylan, amongst many others, including his old band. Yes, what British solo artists do better than anyone else is self-loathing.
The best of British male solo artists since the 1960s have all shared Lennon’s feeling of lack of worth. Bowie, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, George Michael – it often tied in with denied sexuality (gotta keep selling those records), nearly always followed the same path – drug abuse, staged marriages (Elton!), crashing into Snappy Snaps, more drug abuse. Then they sometimes turn it around. Or get assassinated. And it seems somewhat unfair to say, but their work was never as good again as during their time of personal hell and self-hatred.
But after Lennon was shot down and Freddie had passed (and come out – same night!), and Elton had found a lethal cocktail of sobriety and David Furnish, there was one man from a later generation who seem prepared to carry that heavy, heavy burden-slash-torch.
Having got himself expelled from a leading boy band by way of a professed love for indie music and a burgeoning fondness for far too many pies, Robbie Williams shocked the world by actually turning out to be the real deal. A true pop star, and a truly British pop star who despite almost unprecedented success (everywhere but in America, tellingly, where self-loathing is managed out of you before you hit the stage – or you’re Kurt Cobain and you work if out for yourself) was ultimately not happy with himself. But brilliantly used it in his art.
(Yes, it’s a dangerous cliché to say artists should be tortured, but the evidence speaks for itself – most do their best work in some kind of pain – Double Fantasy is just nowhere near as good as Plastic Ono Band. Easier to dance to – true.)
This was never more evident in the case of the Robster than on his masterpiece Come Undone, a song that not only announces his feelings in such unbarred terms “Because I’m scum” – but then has the temerity to make his adoring audience, hell, even his casual audience, complicit in the affair. Simply, genius, Lennon would have come back from the dead and killed to have written this song.
This version below is from Rob's legendary stand at Knebworth where he literally blamed what can best be described as the equivalent of the population of a rather large town for his feeling bad, and then got them to sing along with the rejoinder “I’m your son, Britain.” Said it once already – genius.
Oh yes, and the film connection bit – how could you forget?? He was the voice of Dougal in The Magic Roundabout movie (which is rubbish, by the way.)