In October this year, Robbie Williams signed a deal worth 125.5 million euro with record company EMI. On Monday, Williams released his new album 'Escapology' with the burning question unanswered - is he worth it?
Let him entertain you
From teen pin-up through his manifestation of tortured rock star to his reinvention as all-around family entertainment, no one could describe Robbie Williams as predictable. In October, the former Take That heartthrob signed on the dotted line and found himself in the possession of the biggest British record deal of all time. A record 125.5 million euro ($126.3m) for six albums under the guidance of one of the biggest names in the business, EMI.
Everything about Williams has been big since he left the boy band behind and started out in his solo career. Big seller, big news, big controversy - add to that now some big responsibility.
Huge financial expectations attached to album release
The day before his parent company EMI releases its interim financial results, Robbie Williams releases his latest offering 'Escapology' with more than just the usual weight of artistic expectation resting on his young shoulders.
This is the album that has become known in the British music industry as "the album with the £80m price tag" and everyone is waiting to see whether Williams can deliver, especially his bosses at EMI.
EMI is hoping that US music fans will take the lead from the Germans.
The decision to unveil his new album at his only European press conference in the British embassy in Berlin may not be as strange as first appears. Williams' popularity in Germany is as strong as anywhere. His last two albums ‘Sing When You’re Winning’ and his Frank Sinatra inspired ‘Swing When You’re Winning’ both debuted at No. 1 in Germany, the latter selling over 1.2 million copies.
One thing is for sure at least, Williams knows he can depend on his home market, the UK. The older generation, enamoured with his album of swing covers, and the younger market, consumers of his pop star persona, have helped him sell over 10 million albums in the UK, with every release going straight to the number one spot.
Robbie targets the US with tailor made ballads and rock
Williams is now aiming for a bigger market, one that his record company wants badly to conquer, the US.
'Escapology' is his attempt to break into the world's biggest music market and it is blatantly honed to appeal to the American public with the type of ballads and drive-time rock that are near and dear to the American heart.
However, for all his flag waving and pledges to Uncle Sam, previews of the album suggest that the confessional and almost tabloid nature of his lyrics may miss the target.
"The Americans this album is so evidently aimed at have never heard of Robbie Williams," wrote Alexis Petridis, reviewing 'Escapology' in the British daily The Guardian. "Why should they be interested in his fame-induced neuroses?"
Sickly EMI looking for big hits from its big hitters
The Rolling Stones are another top act that EMI has pinned hopes on.
Williams' record company is certainly hoping that the critics are wrong. EMI is banking on a big hit. The company is releasing its interim sales figures on Tuesday and hope to have better news than it did this time last year.
Sales for the same period in 2001 fell from 1.78 billion euro ($1.79 billion) to 1.66 billion euro ($1.67 billion). It was more bad news when EMI revealed in September that the company's market value had more than halved since the start of the year - losing more than 1.56 billion ($1.57 billion).
However, in an article in The Guardian, EMI predicted that several factors -- a strong showing by Williams, the continuing American success of the latest album by Coldplay, and the recently released Rolling Stones Greatest Hits compilation -- should see the company hit its targets for the financial year.