Swing When You're Winning. (Music Review: Swing out, Sister: Robbie Williams's Tribute to Sinatra-Era Music Shows the Sexually Ambiguous Brit Singer to Have the Nerve If Not the Voice)

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Swing When You're Winning * Robbie Williams * Chrysalis/EMI U.K. (import only)

There's a moment during a spirited rendition of the Al Jolson evergreen "Me and My Shadow" when Robbie Williams lets out a wild guffaw after guest vocalist Jonathan Wilkes teases him with the promise "I won't tell anybody you're gay." As a rush of horns carries the song to a fittingly festive conclusion, the hearts of the British pop star's ever-ardent contingent of gay male disciples can be heard fluttering madly.

Despite Williams's assertions of heterosexuality, queer listeners have been scouring his recordings and the gossip rags for glimmers of proof of the opposite. The tiny morsel offered during "Me and My Shadow" (which also includes Williams cheekily ad-libbing, "[We're] closer than Ricky to confessing he's gay") only adds fuel to the fire. And it's difficult not to believe that Williams--who has long delighted in portraying himself as a no-boundaries party boy in the European press--isn't deliberately playing a little cat and mouse with his gay admirers on his loving paean to the swing music era, Swing When You're Winning. After all, why else would he opt to also duet with Rupert Everett on the George and Ira Gershwin chestnut "They Can't Take That Away From Me"? Certainly not for the out actor's wobbly baritone range, though he is undeniably charming as he interprets lines like "the way you haunt my dreams."

Aside from its occasional queer references, Swing When You're Winning (which playfully redrafts the title of his 2000 pop opus, Sing When You're Winning) affirms that Williams is a performer of considerably more depth than he's previously revealed. …