Picks and Pans Review: Escapology

updated 04/07/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 01:00AM

Robbie Williams (Virgin)

Critic's Choice
[STARS 1]

In the U.K. Robbie Williams is the biggest bloke in music, having landed a record-breaking contract for more than $80 million with EMI Records last fall. Up to this point U.S. stardom has eluded the 29-year-old former boy-band singer. By all rights, that should change with Williams's third American release, a deserving pop-rock collection on the order of 1999's underappreciated The Ego Has Landed and 2000's overlooked Sing When You're Winning. Think George Michael, Elton John and Queen's Freddie Mercury all rolled into one. Indeed, Williams, who had a hand in writing all 14 cuts, is a throwback to the pre-hip-hop days, when pop stars made careers on real songs rather than samples.

Brimming with memorable melodies and witty lyrics delivered with characteristic brio, this disc is a welcome escape from much of what you hear on radio and MTV nowadays. "If you ain't sticking your knives in me, you will be eventually," Williams sings cheekily on the guitar-drenched single "Monsoon." There is hardly a bad tune in the bunch, but standouts include "Something Beautiful," which, with its soulful horn arrangement, has a charming retro-'60s feel, and "Come Undone," a power ballad with a soaring chorus that brings to mind Williams's Brit-pop forebears the Beatles.

BOTTOM LINE: Smashing

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