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Dec 14

ROBBIE WILLIAMS – “She’s The One” / “It’s Only Us”

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#841, 20th November 1999

robbieshes And so the 90s drain away, with a plughole gurgle of third and fourth singles from hit albums, marking time before the Christmas and Millennium big guns are fired. “She’s The One” is the first in a minor subgenre of hit, Robbie Williams Ballads That Want To Be Angels. The success of “Angels” established one mould for Robbie, something he might be uniquely good for, and naturally he tried to hit that target again a few times. Just as he’d begun by jumping tracks between boyband high life and post-Britpop lairiness, so “Angels” stood as a chimeric blend of 90s ballads, an arms-on-shoulders lads night out belter crossed with heartthrob devotion, “Wonderwall” with just enough Westlife spliced into its DNA.

“She’s The One” is a lifeless, pleasant enough execution of the same idea, so much so that I was surprised Guy Chambers didn’t write it himself. In fact it’s a cover of a World Party track, by Chambers’ sometime colleague Karl Wallinger. It won an Ivor Novello the year “Angels” hit so big, which makes the concept obvious: a song with pedigree meets a star with pedigree. Success, indeed, follows. But compared to “Millennium”, or even throwaway AA-Side “It’s Only Us”, Robbie doesn’t sound that interested in “She’s The One”. The Beatley harmonies that blanket the record once it gets going give this its patina of Novello-winning class, but the song irons the cheek out of its singer. Wallinger huffed and puffed about his track being handed to Williams, but he had it wrong: if anything, Robbie is too reverent here.

“It’s Only Us” is sprightlier, at least. Written for a football videogame – I imagine eyebrows were raised at “we all need a decent ruck / where it’s all kicking off” – it’s Williams back in the ironic rabble-rousing mode of “Millennium”, and sounding like he enjoys it. Meanwhile Guy Chambers indulges his every new wave whim, up to and including a laugh-out-loud Farfisa organ solo that’s the most – only, maybe – exciting moment on either song. Both these songs are minor pleasures even relative to Robbie’s catalogue: “It’s Only Us” wins by being self-aware enough to know it.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Rory on 22 Dec 2014 #

    “It’s Only Us” struck me on first listen as Robbie Goes Manics. Not bad.

    Lots more to say about “She’s the One”, later…

  2. 2
    wichitalineman on 22 Dec 2014 #

    She’s The One is more indebted to the Rutles than the Beatles: the verse scans like I Must Be In Love while the production is Cheese And Onion. So STO’s Oasis feel is kind of inevitable. And I think it’s a better song than anything they did post Morning Glory.

    The lack of mugging – or cheekiness, if you’re more forgiving – is a bonus for me, too.

    No memory of the double A.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 22 Dec 2014 #

    the melody for ‘She’s the one’ reminds me of John Lennon’s ‘Love’ from the ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ album, which given Karl Wallinger’s Beatles fixation is not surprising. Both songs are a bit insipid but at least Lennon’s is short and not over arranged. I’m not sure that Robbie ever sounds that convincing when he’s expressing affection for anyone other than himself.
    ‘It’s only us’ is fun although I can’t imagine it reaching number 1 on its own. The video should be preserved as an embodiment of a late 90s vision of the future.

  4. 4
    mapman132 on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Neither song made it to the US so this was my first viewing. Whatever I thought of the songs was drowned out by the ridiculous videos. I couldn’t figure out who Robbie was supposed to be in the skating one until Wiki cleared it up for me at which point – no, actually, it’s still a ridiculous video. Anyway, 4/10, 5/10, whatever.

  5. 5
    chelovek na lune on 22 Dec 2014 #

    I think “She’s The One” has grown on me through sheer repetition of hearing over the years. “Moderately insipid” is probably not an unfair description, but it’s competent enough – I’m afraid my main association of this performance of the song (and I can’t recall the exact details or context so am desperately hoping this is not a freakish invention of my own imagination) was of Tony Blair (or, if not him, some of his most senior New Labour spinners) using the song in a tribute to Mo Mowlem – I’m not sure whether when she was still alive or not. – in some ways actually one of the less nauseating appropriations of popular culture undertaken by New Labour – but still a bit insiduous. So I always think of the no-nonsense lady who told Ian Paisley to f. off whenever I hear this song – which may well not have been either Robbie, or Karl Wallanger’s intention.

    The other interesting point is just how straight a copy – almost a carbon copy, but with more invigorated singing – this is of the World Party original. It’s a very long way from their best song, of course. But Robbie just about scores points in accordance with the “do it better or do it differently” maxim.

    “It’s Only Us” I don’t recall hearing at all. It’s fairly slight if passably entertaining.

  6. 6
    AMZ1981 on 22 Dec 2014 #

    It’s an interesting question here as to which side actually sold the single. Millenium had been followed by a pair of number four hits and the album was now a year old so I suspect the selling point was new track It’s Only Us (not on the original album but added to later pressings when a song had to be removed for legal reasons). However it was noticeable that the radio play went to She’s The One and I suspect there were sentimental reasons for this – World Party had never converted their critical adoration and awards into sales before Britpop blew them out of the water so it was good for one of Karl Wallinger’s songs to finally make it big.

    Strangely enough I’d never heard It’s Only Us until a few weeks ago when I was looking ahead to this entry; like a lot of Robbie’s output to say it has dated horribly is an understatement (I was a fan at the time). I’ve just listened to the World Party original for the first time ever and Robbie’s version is pretty much a photocopy in terms of the arrangement although credit where it’s due he does a good job on the vocal – it does seem a shame that nobody else really raided the World Party songbook.

    Bunnying, but Robbie must have realised he was on to a winner in pairing an old album track with a new song as he’d repeat the ploy with some success two years on.

  7. 7
    Lazarus on 22 Dec 2014 #

    A tad surprised that there hasn’t been more mention of the video before now; certainly I think of it whenever I hear the song. Robbie is trainer to a pair of young ice-dancers, the lad (looking a little like a young Steve Coogan) goes over in training, and our Rob steps into the breach, and with his young partner delivers a blinding performance in front of some granite-faced judges. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to believe that Robbie is enamoured with his young female charge – making some association between the video and the song – there isn’t really any evidence of that on the film. I seem to remember some commentary on the performance too, though that was absent from the clip I just watched. I don’t remember the flip ever getting played on the radio.

  8. 8
    The Muppet on 22 Dec 2014 #

    She’s the One was used in ads for the Sega Dreamcast when it launched a couple of months earlier, which might have helped it get more attention. It’s Only Us was on the soundtrack to FIFA 2000 which features Robbie himself as a player and also had Port Vale even though at the time I don’t think the lower divisions in England were on the game

  9. 9
    enitharmon on 22 Dec 2014 #

    It would have been about this time that some of us were startled to learn that Mr Williams was among the top ten most influential musicians of the millennium about to end, one place ahead of a Herr Mozart of Salzburg, according to a well-publicised poll. Yeah, right.

  10. 10
    Another Pete on 22 Dec 2014 #

    #7 The commentator is BBC veteran Barry Davies, who also makes a cameo appearance as a judge

  11. 11
    Lazarus on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Yes, of course. At the end all the judges give full marks of 6.0 except for the British judge who awards them 6.1 – Davies says something like “and the British judge getting a bit carried away there!”

    Doesn’t Robbie go under the name of ‘Bob Williams’ in this vid, or am I thinking of something else?

  12. 12
    AMZ1981 on 22 Dec 2014 #

    I’d always assumed She’s The One dated back to World Party’s early nineties peak so I was surprised to find the song was only a year old at the point it first appeared on the album. Apparently Karl Wallinger was less than happy that the song was used as a vehicle by Robbie Williams although he acknowledged the money came in useful http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptology_%28album%29 I remember being surprised at the time this was chosen as a single as it never really stood out in an album context (tracks like Win Some Lose Some – Robbie’s tribute to his All Saints girlfriend at the time or the Take That baiting Karma Killer seemed more obvious choices) and thinking about it now it’s possible this is because it doesn’t feel like a Robbie Williams song. It’s strange how somebody whose major talent is as a performer, rather than a musician, has never sounded convincing except when singing one of his own songs.

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 22 Dec 2014 #

    I like “She’s The One”. The World Party original is indistinguishable from Robbie’s version, all but for Robbie’s more forceful delivery. The vid is one massive ego-wank, but this was part of Robbie’s appeal, and it seemed obvious to me that he was always going to stand out while his his Irish rivals were mining nuggets of blandness. Anyway, STO in either of its guises is a pleasant listen.

    On the flip “It’s Only Us” sounds like Feeder. Not entirely sure if that’s a good thing. (6)

  14. 14
    mrdiscopop on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Robbie Williams always seemed to me to be an end-of-pier entertainer, eternally winking to the camera and mugging his way through the big pop tick-list (“glam rock” – check; “turgid Britpop” – check).

    But his performance on this (and, formerly, No Regrets) convinced me otherwise. Tom says he doesn’t sound connected to the material. I’d argue that he connects with it so much that he dates not stray from the original. It’s one of the first vocals Robbie recorded where he sounded vulnerable.

    I like it as much as the original. 7 for the song. 9 for the video – which Will Young has spent most of his career plagiarising.

  15. 15
    Tom on 22 Dec 2014 #

    The comments crew seem quite fond of World Party, who I had always dismissed as revivalist bores (or bore) – the kind of ‘timeless’ (i.e. woefully out of time) songwriter that Q adores for his tasteful craft but whose records are soporific. Leaving aside whether I should just act my age and get into that kind of stuff – was I wrong? Where should I listen to convince me otherwise?

  16. 16
    Izzy on 22 Dec 2014 #

    11: Robbie is ‘Bob Williams’ in the video for the following year’s Supreme, where he duels with Jackie Stewart for the World Championship. We don’t meet it here sadly, but it’s a minor masterpiece.

  17. 17
    swanstep on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Forgettable songs (whether in limp or non-limp flavors) with avoid-like-the-plague Rom-Com titles from which nothing good can come. I enjoyed the vid for STO; Williams isn’t my sort of thing but there’s something basically enjoyable about his Peacock routine. Bravado (at least in small doses before it gets sickening) *is* a pop tonic, and the whole package feels assured and competent in the way that mid-’80s Phil Collins stuff often did for better and for worse:
    4

  18. 18
    Alan Connor on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Re: #15, I found World Party very exciting at Glastonbury 1990 and later bought Goodbye Jumbo from a record shop instead of Bill Drummond’s The Man, which I don’t think I regretted. I like these ones: http://open.spotify.com/user/alanconnor/playlist/0o1NZArgtNpTnHXwVubERe but your mileage may vary.

  19. 19
    Auntie Beryl on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Wallinger adores Prince as much as McCartney, I think. The Waterboys ‘Whole Of The Moon’ had as much to do with him as it did Mike Scott (Wallinger on piano, organ) and the way the Waterboys changed direction after the split is instructive.

    “Bang” is the best World Party album to my ears, but I’m not sure if that’s a commonly held view.

  20. 20
    Kinitawowi on 22 Dec 2014 #

    Always saw this pair as one for the ladies and one for the lads, although in raw lasting power and marketability it’s clear which one won out (clue: count how many times Robbie pulled some random bint up on stage to sing “you’re the one” at her; then count how many times he grabbed a load of guys up for a group singalong). That probably tells a story in and of itself.

    (2 + 6) / 2 = 4.

  21. 21
    Rory on 23 Dec 2014 #

    I boarded World Party’s “Ship of Fools” when it reached number 4 on the Australian charts in 1987, and picked up Private Revolution on tape shortly after. Its jumble of influences didn’t entirely make sense at the time, but I must have listened to it a lot because it sounds very familiar when I relisten to it now. As well as relics of the Waterboys on “All Come True”, there are hints of Prince, The The, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and not a lot of Beatles at that stage (that became more obvious later, most clearly on his cover of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” on the Thank You World EP). Private Revolution is a problematic album, and some songs I liked at the time don’t work for me now, but a few tracks have lasted: the two mentioned, the title track, and “It’s All Mine”.

    The next album was the critical breakthrough, and I well remember Rolling Stone raving about it (four stars, if not more). Goodbye Jumbo blended the debut’s disparate influences into a more coherent whole, and married them to some excellent songs: “Way Down Now”, “Put the Message in the Box”, “Is it Too Late?” and “Thank You World”. But for me World Party reached its peak in 1993 on Bang!, which is almost all peaks itself. As well as the well-chosen singles, “Give It All Away”, “Is It Like Today?” and the George Harrison-esque “All I Gave”, it features some great album tracks in “Hollywood”, “Radio Days”, “Sunshine” and “Kingdom Come” (not to mention the Beach Boys-inspired hidden track “Kuwait City”). It’s the album I would hand to anyone new to World Party, and I can’t fathom AllMusic’s measly three-star rating; they seem hung up on one 26-second track.

    I listened to Bang! a lot in the mid-’90s, and eagerly awaited the follow-up. But by the time it arrived in 1997, Egyptology was competing for my affections with the glory days of Britpop, and couldn’t win. Looking through its tracklist doesn’t trigger mental samples of melody the way the first few albums do, so I can’t have listened to it nearly as closely as those. Hopping around it now in iTunes, I remember “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” and not much else, apart from one stand-out song – and it wasn’t the single, the this time poorly-chosen “Beautiful Dream”.

    “She’s the One” was the highlight of Egyptology, and everyone paying attention knew it, not least Wallinger’s collaborator on Bang!, Guy Chambers. After winning an Ivor Novello award for it and performing the song on Later… with Jools Holland, I imagine Wallinger was wondering why his record label Chrysalis wasn’t capitalising on a sure hit for the album’s second single, so I’m not surprised at his initial dismay when they handed it to Robbie Williams in 1999 for this Chambers-produced version.

    Williams’s “She’s the One” is such a faithful cover that removing the vocals would have left a creditable World Party karaoke track: too heavy on the strings, and missing the rock finale, but near enough. Williams’s delivery, too, is as close to Wallinger’s as he can manage. Yes, Karl wuz robbed, but he came to terms with it, as the songwriting royalties (no doubt much higher from a Williams performance than a World Party single would ever have managed) helped sustain him in the years following an aneurysm in 2001.

    As a World Party fan I’d give the original a 7 or 8, and there’s enough of it in Williams’s cover to warrant a 6. “It’s Only Us” is enjoyable enough to give the double-A single the same.

    (Thanks to this entry, I’ve now learned that World Party’s last album – 2000’s Dumbing Up, better than Egyptology but not up to their memorable best – has finally got a successor, the 2012 5-CD compilation of b-sides, demos, live tracks and new recordings Arkeology, which is on Spotify. Hooray!)

  22. 22
    Rory on 23 Dec 2014 #

    #19: Wallinger strikes me as more a fan of Lennon than McCartney: Arkeology features three Lennon-dominated Beatles covers and only two McCartney among its 70 tracks, and I hear more John than Paul in his vocals. It’s fair to say that both of them (and Harrison) have left their mark, but I always thought the “Beatlesque” description was a bit of a stretch for the band’s sound, especially for the debut, which comes from quite different directions. Chambers makes Williams’s “She’s the One” sound far more Beatle-y than the original by adding the orchestra – or perhaps more accurately, per Wichita @2, more Oasis-y.

  23. 23
    Alan Connor on 23 Dec 2014 #

    #21: I forgot Way Down Now! Oddly, since it’s the bit of the Glastonbury set I thought I remembered the best.

  24. 24
    ciaran on 30 Dec 2014 #

    I was aware of IOU jut from the first 3 to 5 seconds as it always played when you started Fifa 2000. I couldnt press the start button quick enough to get onto a game. That it seemed to be a mediocre track might have had something to do with it more so than playing as Arsenal or Real Madrid.Having the Now 46 CD for a brief time had me skipping it aswell.

    I’ve never listened to it the full way through up until yesterday and its not left any mark on me at all. I couldnt have been more underwhelmed. As forgettable as the pre-Angels days. The weakest of his golden age both in song and video.3

    STO though was hard to avoid and had a long life afterwards as a radio love song staple.It was obvious for a long time of its potential to top the charts and there was at least one stripped down slowie for RW on every album.I didn’t care for it all that much and felt the first 3 singles from I’ve Been Expecting You was more than alright.

    As someone who preferred Robbie as a cock of the walk figure who was more enjoyable as a man pulling the shirt off over his head and clowning around(taken to some extremes in the next bunny) rather then the soppy and reflective cock getting all over emotional on us with overheated ballads I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to STO again. Moves along nicely and despite the touches of Oasis as mentioned above it’s endured a lot better then I thought it would.6

  25. 25
    Erithian on 31 Dec 2014 #

    This was Robbie in what we might call (with apologies to Tom for nicking his cherished PSB-related title) his imperial phase, where whatever he tried he came up smelling of roses, even when chucking a few barbs at Gary Barlow in obscure corners of his albums. “She’s Only Us” is a beautifully performed version of a top-notch song, with the Beatley touches nicely in place but not done to death – I like Wichita’s Rutles analogy above. Rob’s a cheeky chappy in the video but suitably charming on record – although I’ve a special aversion to videos that interrupt the song. We were talking the other night about whether videos necessarily complement a song or not; this one jars rather, you’re distracted from the song by the story playing out in the vid, and when the song stops for a crucial bit of ice-skating story you’re going “hang on…”

    I don’t remember “It’s Only Us” from the time at all – wasn’t following the charts as closely as I used to but it’s still odd how this one got away. But blimey, Rory at #1 is spot on about Robbie Goes Manics – during the chorus I kept expecting it to become “Everything Must Go”.

  26. 26
    Tom on 31 Dec 2014 #

    Erithian, “imperial phase” is Neil Tennant’s phrase/concept, not mine – though it’s one I used a lot, and he used it to describe his own band’s career. His great gift to pop criticism!

  27. 27
    Shiny Dave on 1 Jan 2015 #

    #8 Yup, by all accounts (that I recall) part of the deal for getting “It’s Only Us” onto FIFA 2000 was Port Vale in the game, and they were shoehorned in with “Rest Of The World” along with a grab-bag of teams from unlicensed leagues. (The licensing has grown since then – including the Football League and other second divisions in FIFA 2004 – but the ROTW category remains, largely a Greek-Turkish-Argentinian-South African mix these days. We’ll meet a band named after one of the last of these in 2007.)

    Got fond memories of both of these songs actually. I stuck with FIFA 99 (and 98, because it had features 99 didn’t – a World Cup mode with every single international team on the planet, and the never-to-return five-a-side mode) for so long that I never got 2000, so never got the chance to be as sick of IOU as I would’ve done. (Those preceding FIFAs had been respectively introduced with near-bunnies “The Rockafeller Skank” and “Song 2” – this was the start of EA going big on soundtracks, which was to become a defining feature of their games for years to come – and I did get bored of those for a while.) I ended up rather liking IOU for a while when I heard it again: this was at a time when I was enthusiastic about singing but thought my voice was uselessly low, and I threw part of it into a filk parody of pop songs being consistently written for high male voices.

    This is ironic in a way I only just realised (never knew this was a double-A until now!) because She’s The One was one of the first songs I tried out with my singing teacher at university in 2006, and I very strongly recall awkwardly flitting from one octave to the other in a manner not entirely consistent with ducking out of high or low notes. Ironically considering it was this teacher that sent me on what turned out to be a wrong vocal path, and very possibly this lesson that instigated it, I suspect this song rather suits my voice now! (In no position to check right now, what with this seasonal cold…)

  28. 28
    Elmtree on 28 Jan 2015 #

    This album was a staple on the car stereo as a kid, so it’s an old favourite, but I think where STO scores is the feeling of underplaying – the backing is epic, but Robbie’s vocal is rather sweet. The key is the syncopation in the chorus – all those unexpected stresses make it feel bouncy and unexpectedly spiky compared to the floaty verses. It makes Oasis sound so lunky (not, granted, a difficult task).

    IOU, meanwhile, is awesome. This is the perfect B-side: a little too oddball to have much chance of getting to number one on its own, but a pleasant surprise for anyone buying for the A-side.

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