Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

Publication day – The Life Assistance Agency

When you have a public platform of the magnitude of Idle Blogs it seems churlish not to announce today as the day I hand in my notice at work. If I was a total idiot, which I’m not, although this might be validly contested in certain circles. Today marks the publication of my debut novel the Life Assistance Agency. The day has finally arrived, despite more acute observers being understandably surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. It’s your typical 19 year overnight success.

It was called something else for a long time, until the title that had been staring out at me finally revealed itself. It was never intended as a social commentary or heavy tome. If it had then I’d happily declare it a failure. The Life Assistance Agency is not the sort of book involving vast Irish families with dubious historical secrets and a silhouetted park bench on the cover. It’s an entertaining escape involving an Elizabethan alchemist Dr Dee and Bruce Springsteen . It’s the sort of book I’d like to read, (if I hadn’t already  done so at least 50 times).

The Life Assistance Agency is an organisation that has no modus operandi, so therefore avoids painting itself into a corner, (although will do so if a client pays them enough to do so). It sounds more like a dodgy business plan mis-heard during a pub lock-in, which it was.

My plans for today involve writing a more robust blog recording a blow-by-blow account of publication day, which is likely to differ little from other days besides wearing an insufferably smug smile putting those on the faces of beach hut owners in the shade. I am also getting out of London to avoid the media scrum and paparazzi for the day.

This is a fabulous opportunity to declare how incredibly supportive SO many people have been. Readers of this blog, followers of my Twitter account at TomAngel1 (the reason for this will reveal itself to readers of the novel), so many of my friends, a Psychiatrist I work with, Faber Academy, my Publisher, and even the courier who delivered ten copies from my publisher this morning. I was so delighted I almost gave him one. He retreated to his van with only seconds to spare.

This support is the sort of thing giving social media a dangerously good name. I say this before the reviews come in; some of which are bound to read like the vitriol of someone who’s missed every bus since last Wednesday and recently had their own novel manuscript rejected.

I also apologise in advance for the imminent use of social media as a tool for nothing else but flog my book. I will keep it to a minimum, as it’s unbecoming. The novel needs to take on a life of its own without requiring me to take it for a daily walk, but for the next few weeks I shall be shouting from the roof tops, and it won’t be ‘Can someone please get me down?’

the Life Assistance Agency can be bought from local bookshops, Waterstones and from here :

Many thanks. x




Satellites – Glitch. 0.4.Album review

If there was ever a band you need to be in the mood for it is Satellites. Actually, they’re not really a band, but the project of Johnny Vic. As a one-man Arcade Fire, he writes and plays everything. But before imagining him on stage with cymbals between his knees and a drum on his back, it’s reliably heart-stirring stuff.  Since his debut album 0.1 in 2012, his Google-resistant band name and elegant melodies have maintained the levels of secrecy international governments can only dream of. If you ever need reminding of the sheer emotional power of music then you’d be hard pushed to find better examples than his 2nd album (0.2) and his live set from Saint Saviour church.

0.2’s follow up 0.3 has been temporarily delayed by this Glitch, 0.4, written in response to the news of his mother having a stroke. The Saturdays this is not, more Now that’s what I call Catharsis.

Not only are Satellites a well-kept secret, with the promotional subtlety of Factory Records on a bank holiday, but secrets also pervade the songs. None more so than the brittle Faith & I – as he wonders who really clutches our hand during those darkest nights.

Immediate responses to life crises are understandable, and Vic spent hours on a piano at his mother’s house between hospital visits. Releasing an album so quickly in response to tragedy might invoke the wisdom of ‘Act in haste, and repent at leisure’, but the music’s honesty is as unnerving as you might expect. It’s more intimate than him singing on your lap. It’s predictably subdued, until the military tattoos of Square Wheels segue rather unlikely into what could be easily mistaken for the Chemical Brothers. It’s late coming, but is the up-draught this set needs to fly.

Just Pull Over maintains this momentum, over plaintive piano, it’s an ode to not knowing how to truly react to those phone calls we all dread; even the drums stutter uncertainly, as more electronics drift in. Unforgiven is a claustrophobic gasp, as it struggles to maintain a melody amongst the turmoil.

Like someone crying in a nightclub, this is an album that might get lost. It’s for solitary listening, and would fail to compete with even the dullest of dinner parties. It’s tense and torn, but there’s still hope, most notably on the defiant Photograph, which mines the loping grooves of the Beta Band.

It’s an unlikely opportunity to introduce synths to his sound, hopefully a nod to the still-to-be-released 0.3; but they complement his densely layered arrangements. Its lyrics are opaque, like the blurred image of the cover. 0.4 is a welcome gift, an album capturing the moment in a man’s life, which he has the generosity to share, so that perhaps we might feel empowered by the shocks that we all dread.

Some Annoying Things about children

I actually love children, but they, like the idiosyncrasies of a classic car, need to be lived with, irritants and all. Below is a far from exhaustive list of why children are bloody annoying, and not just when they’re allowed in pubs.

Low Walls along the pavement

This is an example of how you see the world differently with children. A walk in the park is so easy that it’s an idiom, but not when there’re walls low enough for toddlers and young children to walk along. While you’re wrestling single-handed with a pushchair that you’ve loaded with a month’s shopping alongside a road thundering with heavy traffic, they want to climb up onto the wall and trapeze their way along it holding your hand. It basically transforms every 10 minute journey time into the sort of imprecise estimated time of arrival more associated with polar expeditions undertaken too late in the year.

Shops – Yes, they still exist. Not that they ever sell anything I want, unless it’s a record or book shop, but entering a shop with young children involves the kind of iron fist that is illegal in public. As they touch, stroke, or break anything within reach, which in defiance of spatial physics appears to be everything, you endeavour to discipline them through the use of a barking whisper that only parents develop. Meanwhile, the child raps on about how much they’ve always wanted : a Danger Mouse comic, hole punch, flamingo glass ornament, or rubber gloves (delete where appropriate).

Bath toys – because bath time isn’t already an activity seemingly designed by bathroom manufacturers to destroy your washroom in under a year, the children insist on displacing most of the water with bath toys, which they then don’t play with. It leaves parents not only having extract reluctant children from the bath squirming like cut eels, but also well over 50 plastic toys which eats into the 5 minutes they have to bath themselves. Pointless plastic bath toys are basically the perfect encapsulation of why planet earth is fucked.

Shoes – trying to put a child’s foot into a shoe that is apparently the right size is reliably accompanied by mumble swearing and questioning ‘how hard can it be? Meanwhile they succeed in putting them on the wrong feet with a regularity that can only be deliberate.

Lego – Successfully penetrating the soles of parents feet with the fierce precision of carpet scorpions since it’s invention in 1960.

Power Rangers – Of course most children’s toys are inane film/TV tie-ins with as much creative thought as a trade union meeting, but I’m unsure anything has quite encapsulated the derisory ‘this’ll do’ when creating a franchise quite like Power Rangers. Instead of developing any distinguishing character of each Power Ranger, they are simply a different colour. Future cultural genealogists piecing together our civilisation will be utterly stumped by their existence, unable to determine where they came from, how and most bewildering of all, why.

Arts and crafts – this is what children have been led to believe is compulsory if it is a wet day. Gone are the days of gazing out of the rain-bejewled window pane, head on hands ruminating on life and where it goes. No, now they insist that the paints and paper and pipe cleaners are found (always form the highest, most awkward cupboard), in order to make the kind of mess more associated with direct collisions involving a painter and decorator’s van. Once every single box, pencil case and paints is opened, they scrawl for 2 minutes before asking if the TV can be put back on.


The last task when writing a Novel.

In the on-going series of making it up while going along, and I’m not referring to parenting, we find ourselves at the acknowledgments. It’s a moment to reflect upon how the seemingly impossible task of writing a novel was accomplished, and who helped, while avoiding being overwhelmed by emotion like a Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars.

As any writer with more than one published novel will know, the acknowledgments is a minefield that makes the previous 80,000 words look like a stroll on an escalator. It’s not exactly learning to play the three suites of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage on a harmonica, but it feels close. As someone (possibly) once said about maintaining relationships: it’s not what you put in, but what you leave out.

Established etiquette, not to mention the threat of law suits, demands a roll of thanks to the people who have bank-rolled, tolerated, and in one instance even carried the writer out of bars. And it ensures a renewed interest on their part to read at least 2 more pages of a book they hoped to never see again.

Because not quite believing your novel with ever get published means the acknowledgments are a hurried, yet important afterthought. You don’t want your joy at publication ruined by forgetting to thank your wife/husband.

One of the drawbacks of taking years to write a novel is that there are plenty of people who get forgotten. Ex-girlfriends, cab drivers, Scout leaders and that bloke who once foolishly sat next to you on the 44 bus and with whom you shared your first draft, leading to a subsequent retreat from human contact and culminating in a drugs and alcohol addiction that continues untreated to this day. I hear the other passenger also remains traumatised.

Of course the last thing a writer wants is names other than their own on the cover. Even the title is a compromise, unless you’re Jonathan Franzen, who’s recent novel you might be forgiven for thinking is called Jonathan Franzen as opposed to Purity. This is why acknowledgements appear stuffed reluctantly at the end. However, there are few clearer signs of an amateur writer than one who declines to recognise it takes more than one person to write a book.

However, once you start it becomes hard to stop, and avoiding the ‘Gwyneth’ becomes harder. If you find yourself listing family pets then this moment has probably been reached. Unlike a successfully established novelist, it’s inadvisable to thank your fans in your debut novel. The fans are essentially your parents, and Auntie Linda. So, at this stage it’s advisable to thank them by name. I know at least 13 office printers that have been decommissioned as a result of the volume of printing manuscript drafts, but they’ll be forgiving of their absence in the thanks.

The appearance of my 6th form English teacher Mr Blake took me by surprise. Regrettably he has died, so is ignorant to the subtle influence he had on my literary life, probably correctly thinking I spent too much time looking at the girls in class. We read so many plays that it grew apparent that the only thing he’d never read was the A-level syllabus, but his passion was clear.

Names I’ve forgotten to thank are waking me at night, and I’m at risk of so many names appearing that I’ll need to do the acknowledgements for the acknowledgements at this rate. Now, where’s that harmonica.

To see who makes the Acknowledgements of the Life Assistance Agency it is available to buy here:,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035






What people always say to Writers.

It was recently said I look like a writer, which I tried to pretend wasn’t shorthand for appearing socially inept, malnourished and skint. They then asked me what genre my novel is.

It’s a regular question, and in light of people invariably asking the same things upon hearing that you are a writer, it would be a good idea to have well-prepared answers, which makes my lack of them even more inexplicable.

The most common is, ‘Are you published?” like it’s something that inevitable happens to every writer. Of course you want to grab them by the lapels and scream ‘D’you have any fucking idea how hard it is to get published?’ It’s not something you choose as an option at A-level . If I was published I would be (even more) unbearable, and you’d not be able to enter my house due to piles of unsold copies of the novel. Plus, you WOULD have known about it. If the blanket promotional bombing across every social media platfor hadn’t reached you, the airborne banner advertising and T-shirt emblazoned with I’M PUBLISHED! would have.

Once you’ve caught your breath, and the questioner looks less like they’ve stuck their head in a turbo jet engine during takeoff, they sometimes add that they’ve had an idea for a novel too. This suggests that given the time they might bash out a draft too, but they’re too busy with more important things, but it’s there, on the back burner. You take a deep breath…

Are you published? is the most dreaded question, and probably the one driving most writers to pursue publication. So they can answer, ‘yes, I am actually,’ as though it’s an option chosen at A-level.  It validates writing, justifying your claim of being a writer; an admission that is otherwise whispered through cracked fingers like you’re admitting to having chopped someone up before leaving them on a Dartmoor roadside.

Another favourite is ‘How do you find time, with kids, job, etc, etc?’ This is a slightly judgemental intimation of ‘Are you still doing that?’ dressed up as a good-natured question. It’s also impossible to answer without sounding conceited, (Yes-aren’t-I-amazing that I manage to juggle everything), and although it’s said with good intentions, you wish the earth to swallow you up. You start mumbling something about the fact they could do it too if they tried, before releasing that you sound like a total wanker. The worst thing about being a writer is that some people think you are clever, whereas in actuality it takes you 2 months to draft a sentence you are happy with.

As any writer knows, the real question is what would you do with your time if you weren’t writing. Mind you, never declare this in earshot of your live-in partner, who will produce a list of things you could be otherwise doing with the sort of speed more associated with stopping a child from running into traffic.

The ‘what genre is it?’ is a popular response to you admitting that you write. It’s another tricky one, as it’s only something you realise to be important too late, and posthumously try to squeeze your script into Horror, Adventure or Chick Lit (is this still allowed?). Although I spent my teenage years reading novels, these would now be labeled YA.  Apparently there are such specific genres as cat fiction, which isn’t novels written by actual cats, but probably even worse.

What’s it about? is also common, like they are deliberately attempting to publicly shame you into realising that despite having written 80,000 words, this isn’t a question you have adequately asked yourself. This realisation occurs half way through garbled explaining what it’s about and you need to fake a coughing fit to avoid looking any more stupid. That’s if they haven’t wandered off already. Agents like an elevator pitch, but for the first 4 years of writing my novel there was no building with a lift high enough to describe it, not even in Dubai.

I’d like to add that my novel The Life Assistance Agency is to be published next month, and I know exactly what it is about, which is the cover quote I’d put on the cover, if the author was allowed to comment. I’d also say it’s more fun than a threesome on a trampoline. If you buy it and it’s less fun that that I’ll refund your money, IF you have evidence of having tried the trampoline thing.

It can be purchased:,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –





It could happen here – Pet Shop Boys@ Royal Opera House

In the Pet Shop Boys career of curve balls, the first was probably Ennio Morricone co-writing, with Angelo Badalamenti orchestrating, It Couldn’t Happen Here from 1987’s Actually. What were the masters of loitering, moodiness and the one finger keyboard riff doing amongst such majestic classical surroundings? Of course the same could be asked about tonight, but over the past 30 years Pet Shop Boys have ingratiated their perfectly crafted pop music with the classical world with ease. Their gigs have visited Sadlers Wells, Savoy Theatre, The Astoria. Tower of London, and Trafalgar Square, so the Royal Opera house is logical. And it knows it’s not an opera night because it’s sold out.

Their recent album Super may have joyously embraced Italo-Disco, but sadness still resides at the heart of their tunes. However, not tonight. Well, not much. To be honest the tug between dancefloor and pop radio has always created tension in their music. Two men, their lives committed to music. They stand as equals; it’s implicit, one is simpler happier behind a tron mask.

Nothing builds pressure like £60 tickets selling for £800 the night before a gig. Not that it bothers Tennant and Lowe, a song writing partnership that would match that of Lennon McCartney in respect if they didn’t operate with machines as opposed to the authenticity of rock music – as the recent Pop Kids grinned – “Telling everyone we knew/That rock was overrated”.

From the moment two large eggs arrived on stage to join a sparse keyboard and mic stand, we are prepared for a minimal set amongst such regal surroundings. They emerge to the already playing Inner Sanctum but it’s the last indicator of any prerecorded music. It shamelessly moulds Faithless and Kraftwerk to their own ends, before West end girls (once contemporary record, now historical document) and the Pop Kids strut by. As the delightfully unexpected early B-side In the night introduces us to Paris during the German occupation of World War II, two percussion kits and another keyboard arrive, bolstering the band to five, reminiscent of their finest tour (2002’s Release), marking a vast improvement from the sterile Electric shows.

The live percussion and extra keyboards provide immediate impact. The violinist sets up the strings to the pretentious pop of Love is a Bourgeois construct. It’s frenetic, erudite and only latex masks away from Spitting Image parody, as the protagonist gives up the bourgeois life to slob around. It’s one of their harder songs to love, but they’re clearly enamoured with its bedsit flattery. If there’s any flaw it’s that this could have been replaced by Young offender, So hard or twenty other better songs.

The dance/pop pull is unending; no matter how hard they charge the floor, pop wistfulness pulls them to shadows, none more than the lushness of too-rarely played Love comes Quickly. Its freshly minted bell line is so gorgeous that anyone would struggle not to weep. The live percussion and backing vocals perfectly addresses criticisms of the over-programmed Electric tour, while the lasers, smoke and lights create an otherworldly beauty.

Tennant looks trim throughout, admirably appearing his age as an omnipotent projection as he gazes down upon the maelstrom of hypnotic Inside a dream, that creates such a spell over the audience that its ending comes too soon. That is forgiven as Tennant takes to his keyboard for the gentle stabs of what turns out to a surprise airing of the romantic Home & Dry. If this neglected song was surprised at its return then the oft-maligned Winner probably had to cancel dinner plans. However, it attends in the superior happy/sad remix. The gentle ooo-ahs both bring a respite of warmly quiet romance to the room. It’s followed by a a return to the early 90s raves of Vocal, with it’s lonely and strange singer far from abandoned as 303 synth squiggles shamelessly mine those DIY years of dancing in now forgotten fields.

Sodom and the Gomorrah Show makes a surprise appearance in an welcome electronic rework, while It’s a sin takes the roof off, even if Neil struggles to keep up with backing track. Somehow there’s more to conquer, as a cowbell laden remixed Left to my own devices arrives. It might be a nod to New Order’s True Faith video, but even when expecting the unexpected, the stage invasion of asexual jelly baby telly tubbies takes everyone by surprise, as Tennant, and particularly Chris Lowe doing what he likes best, become one of the crowd. That Lowe even succeeds in a crowd of oversized jelly babies says it all. Devices frankly reclaims Go West as the perfect closer. Perhaps, aware of this, Go West than arrives to stake its claim, and its hymnal bonhomie accentuated by the jumping jellybeans is so hard to resist that the Royal Opera house doesn’t.

The stage light racks lowering alla Kanye West at Glastonbury shows they don’t miss a pop trick, leaving only one logical ending. Domino dancing continues the audience’s vocal participation after Love Etc’s ‘You don’t have to be’s’, leaving only one logical encore. Hoodwinked by its barnstorming grinding riff, the majestic Always on my Mind has happy couples crooning sexual doubt at each other, until everyone is grinning.

Pet Shop Boys have never sounded more relevant. That they continue to write songs and so carefully consider their presentation is staggering. This isn’t the ‘me’ of contemporary pop, it resides with their characters: of pop kids in love with the possibilities of London, of the pseudo-intellectual not wanting to compete, the sad old dictator who’s ‘too weak to be strong’, the young boy faced with difficult choices at a difficult age. the East End boys and West End girls and the glorious hope of Se A Vida A finding companion in the abandonment of the New York City Boy out in the ticker tape. This is the most modern show out there. Pet Shop Boys have somehow done it again

More Important Life Lessons

Rather foolishly I’ve already blogged Important Life Lessons in the mistaken presumption that it was an exhaustive list. However, life keeps throwing more things to remember. And I don’t just mean other people’s birthdays. So, it until Life stops, Life lessons will be a recurring feature on Idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow . The main problem will be looking for further titles: More Life Lessons, Even more Life Lessons. Yup, more Life Lessons I’m afraid…So

1.  When writing a blog post, don’t entitle it Life Lessons. You’ll be stuck for future titles

2.  Be aware of where you are in life. Timing is everything. If you stand by a pedestrian crossing do not be surprised if cars stop

3.  When abroad, always speak french, they’ll think it’s the french that have been too rude to learn the local lingo

4.  Do not spend too long writing your novel or you won’t remember parts of it. There are jokes in mine I’ve never heard before

5. Being a parent basically legitimises listing things that you can see aloud, often in a soft, patronising voice. ‘A tree’ ‘a bus.’ On days without children you still do this but it’s best to keep it to yourself.

6.  The chances of the driver in an SUV towing a trailer with jet-skis is likely to rate very highly on the Twat scale.

8.  Continuing on this tip, Audi Q7 drivers can actually save money, while achieving the same effect, by wearing a sandwich board reading ‘I’m an arrogant dick who needs a car too big to park to compensate for my diminished sense of self-worth’.

7.  The quickest way to work is likely to be the same route that you rush home.

8.  At the risk of upsetting his fans, you can never leave it too long not to play ‘Are you gonna go my way?’ by Lenny Kravitz

9.  One of the most important things a middle-aged man can learn is when it’s time to stop wearing T-shirts

10. One of the most important things a woman can learn is how to tell a man he’s too old for a t-shirt emblazoned with a band no one under 30 has heard of.

11. Another sign of being a parent is when seeing the phrase Ninja Turtles. The cool part of you recalls the cool hip-hop and soul label Ninja Tunes, but you’re mostly preoccupied with how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are inexplicably still-surviving, to make scriptless, unwatchable films, and undoing any 5-a day advice by surviving entirely on pizza.

12. As a parent you end up saying things you’d have never imagined, such as ‘stop throwing crisps at me.’

13. Nothing is the same anymore. There are even under-stimulated rocket scientists sitting around in laboratories moaning ‘well, it’s just not rocket science.’

14. The most important tip here is if you are having a BBQ, but can’t be bothered to cook. Light the BBQ, get the meat ready, hold some of those large scissor clampy things for turning, and stand there. Within 5 seconds an ‘expert’ will come up and start giving advice. Subtlety hand him the tongs (I knew I’d name them eventually) and slope off. Any BBQ is always surrounded by at least 4 ‘experts’ who think they can do a better job than you- so let them

15. If your knife is too blunt to cut hot cross buns it’s time for a new knife.

16. Unless you want to spend your entire marriage with the pressure of being interesting and charming, do not drink alcohol on your first date.

17. When a blog annoys you, such as hopefully not this one, a good suggestion is that they blog on.

18. Never go camp. There’s no good weather for it.

19. The best way to find any missing sunglasses is to sell your car. You’ll find more sunglasses than you remember buying, and some you clearly didn’t and that would be better suited to Timmy Mallet’s holiday.

20. Always dilute your children’s fruit juice. It lasts longer, and when they leave home they’ll be spun out by the pure intensity of unadulterated Copella ™ apple juice, replacing the need for any class A narcotics for at least the 1st year of independence.


How to work in an Office – a guide.

With so many people blogging, napping and reading Polly Toynbee articles through their fingers, sorry, I mean working from home, traditional office life feels somewhat neglected of late.

There are various skills in negotiating life in the office environment. The most important being to ignore so-called colleagues constantly moaning it’s cold if the room heat dips below temperatures generally associated with New York heatwaves. This is best achieved by flinging open the windows upon your late arrival, turning down the air conditioning and suggesting they put on a jumper. After all, this is what I do at home, until I can see my breath and admit defeat by putting the central heating on.

I’ve been working from home for so long now that life has moved on elsewhere without me. Any encounter with rush hour commuting is like being deposited into a dystopian future of overpopulation and automatons programmed to pick up free newspapers for which the carriage is too cramped to read.

At a recent interview for an office job, I was asked what I might bring to the team. I presumed they didn’t mean a weekly Victoria sponge, although I suspect one of the interviewers might have instantly given me the job had I offered one. Instead, I froze. ‘Humour’, I ventured, instantly regretting it, aware the only immediate demonstration of comedy would involve a joke I had recently heard that belonged to after the watershed. I wanted to add ‘playlists’, ‘casual sexism’ and a healthy disregard for authority, but thankfully managed to stop myself. I’m good at organising the milk whip? They nodded non-commitedly, like you only ever see during interviews.  What could I bring to an office that didn’t involve anecdotes about how much I used to enjoy working from home?

I remember office politics and the slow clocks. The day peaked at lunchtime, because there was food, with another highlight at 3:30 for afternoon tea, if there was milk, but repetition had little else going for it. Of course there was the opportunity to chat, and I miss that, but the postman is a good stand in, even if it’s clear he needs to escape. The screeching of van tyres as he finally leaves always reminds me to take less of his time in future, after all, I’m starving other local home-workers of his company.

In offices there are meeting rooms with whiteboards containing words such as Targets or Planning, with arrows pointing to some forgotten conclusion. To be fair there were probably people in that meeting who forgot where it was going 5-minutes after it was started. Being in a meeting is bad enough, but walking past one and looking in, well, it’s like seeing human beings robbed of their soul.

I have still found no answer as to what I might bring to a team environment, other than using the printer to churn out countless drafts of a novel to edit during lunch breaks, but I know what not working in an office brings, and I don’t just mean having somewhere designated to sit. It’s about doing your work without also having to socialise with people you otherwise would cross the room to avoid. And having milk and teabags without having to send a group email requesting funds.




Robbie Williams – Take the Crown. A review.

Sometimes it’s worth revisiting albums that slip from the public conscious. Despite its title and reaching no.1 in the album charts, 2012’s Take the Crown might even have slipped the memory of its maker Robbie Williams.

It could be argued that Robbie Williams’ star had waned before his reunion with Take That; making the appropriation of his Rudebox template for the boys-to-men-band’s successful return with Progress somewhat ironic.

But Take the Crown, Robbie’s first solo set since 2009’s Reality Killed the Video Star, aims to reclaim his position as one of pop’s foremost solo artists.

This ninth album opens with saxophone, revisiting the reflective tone of Robbie’s Take That stint; and, indeed, much of his previous solo material. Accompanied by stabbing synths and nostalgic lyrics, Be a Boy is an effortlessly victorious beginning.

Gospel also mines the past for inspiration: “I used to be so excited on my own,” he sings. Few people have blurred the line between self-therapy and pop success quite like Robbie, and Gospel is typically bombastic; although an unnecessary “go f*** yourself” torpedoes the track’s warm sentiments.

The presence of producer Jacknife Lee (R.E.M.EditorsSnow Patrol) demonstrates that Robbie’s search to replace Guy Chambers and Steve Power has grown less urgent and more interesting; he’d previously roped in Stephen Duffy and Mark Ronson.

Lead single Candy Girl is catchier than Velcro, although it’s unclear why anyone needs to own it – after the second listen it owns you. It’s eager to please, certainly.

Different is aimed at fans missing Angels, but it isn’t that interesting. The album comes to life, though, with All That I Want and the hypnotic Hunting for You, while Into the Silence is evocative of Joshua Tree-period U2.

Things close with a group-hug of a duet with American singer Lissie, a cover of Belle Brigade’s song Losers. But its “I don’t care about being a winner” lyric is seemingly at odds with the spirit of the album.

Despite these highlights, Take the Crown finds Robbie sounding rather too serious, rather too often. It’s safe, something of a retreat from past endeavours to a sound more suited to commercial returns in the present. Those with a penchant for slightly unhinged pop might do well to listen instead to a certain band called Take That.

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