One word: UPlifting!
‘Feel’ is undoubtedly a feel-good song. Released as the lead single on his 5th album ‘Escapology’ (2002), ‘Feel’ became Robbie’s biggest international hit and his best-ever-selling song in Europe.

Let’s take a closer look at this pop-rock masterpiece from previous Take That member and renowned ‘cheeky chappy’ Robbie Williams.

Behind The Song

The album ‘Escapology’ came very shortly after Robbie had signed a record-breaking £80m (approximately $96m) contract with EMI, a multi-national record label owned by Universal Music Group, covering his next six album releases. This put a lot of pressure on him to perform well, and especially to try and finally gain some popularity in the US.

The song was co-written by Robbie’s producer Guy Chambers, and much like the rest of the album it lets us hear about Robbie’s experiences as a pop star and his personal hopes, dreams, and fears.

The majority of the vocals are actually from a demo recorded in 1999. Robbie wasn’t impressed with his re-recording attempt and felt the original had a more authentic and passionate performance. Session musicians on the track include Andy Wallace with the foundational piano chords, Jeremy Stacey on drums and beautiful strings from the famed London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The song also came with a music video filmed in Alberta, Canada. It shows Robbie living a cowboy lifestyle – riding a horse around in the wilderness, bathing in a steel tub outside, etc.

The video is shot in black and white, trying to emulate the vibe of an old Classic Western movie to hopefully attract some American fans. It also features American actress Daryl Hannah as Robbie’s love interest, and they engage in a steamy romance after catching each other’s eye while riding around on those horses in the mountains.

The US version of the album is a little different from the UK version – ‘Feel’ takes the place of ‘How Peculiar’ as the first song of the album, the songs ‘Hot Fudge’, ‘Song 3’ and ‘Cursed’ have been removed (these are some of the more rocky-heavy songs) and a couple of new ones have been added. This seems like a shame as it takes some of the personality out of the album.

How Did It Do?

‘Feel’ aimed to become the Christmas number one in the UK, and just about made it by peaking at number 2. It was a clear winner in other parts of the world though, especially in Europe. The song topped the charts in Argentina, Hungary, Italy, India, Latvia, Croatia, Portugal, Mexico, and the Netherlands, and achieved top 5 positions in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Switzerland. It also spent 54 weeks in the charts in Canada, but despite the heavily-American music video it, unfortunately, didn’t make it into Billboard’s Hot 100.

This song is surprisingly vulnerable and shares some of Robbie’s personal fears and emotions. Around the same time, he was working with friend and music journalist Chris Heath to produce his biography ‘Feel’, which was released in September 2004. It was an instant bestseller, providing the most sincere and intimate view of Robbie’s life up until that point. It covers intimate thoughts on his battle against rumors in the media, his issues with Take That, and insight into his life as a pop/rock star.

Song Breakdown

The song starts out with a powerful and slightly melancholic piano rhythm, plus a little light percussion.

[Verse 1]

Come and hold my hand

I wanna contact the living

People usually hold hands during spiritual rituals to contact the dead: séances, ouija boards and so on. Maybe Robbie feels disconnected from the rest of the world, as though he is the one on the other side of veil between life and death and needs to get back to the living.

Not sure I understand

This role I’ve been given

I sit and talk to God

And He just laughs at my plans

We’ve all been there – a little lost and questioning what our role here on earth is. He’s on a quest for reassurance and for meaning.

My head speaks a language

I don’t understand

He is also struggling to understand his own emotions and interpret what he really needs.

[Chorus]

I just wanna feel real love

Feel the home that I live in

‘Cause I got too much life

Running through my veins

Going to waste

The rise up into this chorus and the introduction of the strings in the background is incredibly uplifting. You can really hear the emotion behind his vocals.

There is some confusion on whether the correct lyrics are “feel the home” or “fill the home”. Either way, I think “fill” paints a really beautiful mental image – filling the home with real, conditional love is a dream which all human beings have. I do.

The chorus brings the song to life and makes me feel alive, just as Robbie sings about having so much life in his veins – so much so that he doesn’t know what to do with it and worries that it is wasted. This part, when I heard the song the first time, hit right up there.

[Verse 2]

I don’t wanna die

But I ain’t keen on living either

Before I fall in love

I’m preparing to leave her

Scare myself to death

That’s why I keep on running

Before I’ve arrived

I can see myself coming

He is feeling a lot of inner conflicts here. He is admitting that his fears stop him from living life to the fullest, stop him from committing to a romantic partner, and he is too scared to stop ‘running’ from the fear.

This verse is accompanied by a groovy drum beat and some decorative guitar licks around the edges. This enhances the overall atmosphere while also bringing more energy and vibrancy which was missing in the previous verse.

[Chorus]

I just wanna feel real love

Feel the home that I live in

‘Cause I got too much life

Running through my veins

Going to waste

And I need to feel real love

And a life ever after

I cannot get enough

Once again, those orchestral strings are really soaring in this chorus. The coarseness in Robbie’s voice in “I need to feel real love and a life ever after” makes this line particularly memorable, it really touches your heart. It’s easy to picture why Robbie may have chosen these demo vocals over any re-recorded attempt.

After that, we have an instrumental bridge with a quick piano break to soften the tension built up in the chorus. The bass and guitar then take the spotlight with a super catchy groove. This simple yet catchy guitar melody shows just how effectively this song has made use of the formula for a perfect pop ballad (with a touch of rock). The pause after “I cannot get enough” – wonderful!

[Chorus]

I just wanna feel real love

Feel the home that I live in

I got too much love

Running through my veins

To go to waste

In this chorus, I feel like the message has started to become more positive and empowering. Robbie realizes that he has ‘too much love’ and that it shouldn’t be wasted. Up!

[Bridge]

I just wanna feel real love

And a life ever after

There’s a hole in my soul

You can see it in my face

It’s a real big place

This final chorus and the bridge after it makes up the most euphoric part of the song. It’s impossible to resist shouting out and joining in the singing. There’s a lot of contrast here between Robbie feeling filled with ‘too much love’ and at the same time feeling empty inside.

[Outro]

(Figure it out, Feel)

Come and hold my hand

I wanna contact the living

Not sure I understand

This role I’ve been given

Not sure I understand

Not sure I understand

Not sure I understand

Not sure I understand

The ending of the song mirrors the beginning and makes me feel as though we have gone back around in a circle. Robbie never reaches a conclusion in his internal conflict, and he repeats ‘not sure I understand’ as the song fades out, as though he is lost in spiraling thoughts.

Final Thoughts

This song is elegant, vibrant, uplifting, and full of energy. Despite parts of its somewhat depressing lyrics, it’s an easy one to sing along to, whether you’re just humming along or screaming it out with all the force and passion you can summon. It has a sense of rawness and vulnerability to it, but also reinforces Robbie’s charming showmanship and shows off his ability to expertly combine the catchiness of a pop ballad with an effortlessly cool and grungy rockstar sound.

All in all, an entry into my ALL-time top 10 is certainly warranted…

Related Read: Walk of Life by Dire Straits: A Review

Aniket Warty

Aniket Warty

Adventure Capitalist. I need no sanction for my life, permission for my freedom, or excuse for my wealth: I am the sanction, the warrant, and the reason. The creation of wealth is merely an extension of my innate freedom to produce.
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