This article was originally published on THUMP UK.
On February 13, 1974, the gods of light entertainment blessed us with a gift. At some point on that fateful Wednesday, Robert Peter "Robbie" Williams was swaddled up, swept into the biting winds of Stoke-on-Trent and a legend was born. Robert, at some point, probably on his second day of existence, morphed into Robbie. As Robbie, he's been the nation's favorite cheeky chappy for a quarter of a century now. Sure, Bradley Walsh has given it a go, and you'd imagine that Olly Murs would happily donate both bollocks to knock Robbie's crown clean off his quiff, but it's never going to happen. Robbie Williams is the cheekiest chappy to ever grace the luminous sofas of chat show sets the world over.
Robbie Williams—boy band heartthrob, housewife favorite, UFO hunter, Rat Pack fetishist, and total fucking legend—is all things to all men. What's really important though, more important than the record sales or the incredible Facebook presence, is that Robbie is the man behind the greatest electro record of all time: "Rudebox."
You remember "Rudebox" don't you? The Sly and Robbie-sampling banger that landed at No.4 in the UK charts like a bullet. The nimble little rocket that, "compared to Williams" other singles was considered a commercial disappointment. The cheekiest of the cheeky chappy's cheeky back catalogue. Of course you remember "Rudebox." For a decade now you've been doing the rudebox. You've been shaking your rudebox. You've been wondering what the fucking hell a rudebox is but been having too much fun sweating out on the dancefloor to care. "Rudebox" is inside you, deep, deep inside you. "Angels" is for funerals, "She's the One" for weddings, and "Rudebox" for every time you and the lads want to kick back with four to six cans of premium continental lager and a deep pan frozen pizza on a Friday night.
As he poked his smiley little head out of his mother and mugged to the midwife, not even Robbie—Robert back then you'll remember—covered in mucus and blood and membrane and placenta but always ready for a smile and a wink at the nurses, could have predicted he'd grow up to release an electro record that found him rapping the following lines in an incredibly stilted semi-Mancunian-cum-cockney-cum-Jamaican accent without dying of shame:
OK then back to baseheads
Dance like you just won at the special Olympics
I got the rudebox off the back of a spaceship
So sick I just had to take it
Up your jacksie, split your kecks
Sing a song to Semtex
Pocket full of Durex, body full of Mandrex
Are we gonna have sex? Will you wear your knee socks?
Back to the rudebox
Shame isn't a concept that Robbie Williams is aware of. Robbie Williams was born with the shame synapses of his brain swapped out for boisterousness and banter. This is why "Rudebox" exists. No one else on the planet would have ever considered combining Radio 4 panel show standard comedy rapping with one of the clunkiest choruses ever composed, let alone decided to record it, release it, shoot a video for it, and do promo for it. But Robbie did. Because Robbie knows best. The cheeky chappy's got us by the balls and he's looking directly in our eyes and we're pumping cash into his pockets and smiling back. "Why you so nasty," a voice asks us. Because Robbie told us to be, we say. Robbie made us nasty.
Electro, by and large, is for leather-clad lads with straggly long hair who stick to the walls of goth clubs in seaside towns and call themselves Lord DarkPsyche on Facebook and have the air of damp about them, so it's no wonder that it took a bona fide star like Robbie to conjure up some much needed magic. He even makes leather—in this case a tricolor-tinged black Adidas jacket—look good. Not even your man from Drexciya could rock a jacket like that.
He's convincing, Robbie, even when he's peddling utter dross. The Todd Terje interpolating "Candy" should be the kind of sub-Radio 2 whimsy that's only adored by local radio breakfast show presenters and the terminally dimwitted, but somehow the Robster pulls it off and you're left confused but fundamentally charmed. Same with "Let Love Be Your Energy" or "The Road to Mandalay" or "Rock DJ." Robbie's got that ineffable sense of showbiz about him which means he can dive headfirst into rancid pits of abjection and come up smelling of Davidoff Cool Water. He's Des O'Connor, he's Norman Wisdom, he's Graham fucking Norton. And "Rudebox" is his masterpiece.
It doesn't matter that Robbie's ability to rap is on par with your dad's on Boxing Day after a crate of Spitfire and a mug of Cointreau. It doesn't matter that he sounds anesthetized on the chorus. Nor does it matter that it's aged about as well as a teabag left in the bottom of a sink. The fact that Robbie can't decide if he wants "rudebox" to be a noun or a verb? Doesn't matter either. It doesn't even matter that the song might actually be Robbie's ode to the humble vagina, and how he's going to "bump" it till the recipient of his rudebox-prodding "drops". Only Robbie could get away with a song about fucking someone till they literally die, till their body stiffens round the dampening remains of his electro-tinged stiffy. That's our Robbie!
And look, if our Robbie, the pride of Stoke-on-Trent, the man born to tell jokes to a clearly enraptured Michael Parkinson, an entertainer devoted to giving his audience everything he can and a little more, an icon whose eventual death will be greeted by a period of national mourning with his face emblazoned on the half-mast flags that'll fly compulsorily from every building in the country, could get away with murder, he could get away with electro.
Oh, the only other electro record that comes close? "The Way You Move" by Bodyrockers, obviously. But we'll talk about that another day.