Jump to content

Life thru a Lens

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Life thru a Lens
Robbie Williams stands surrounded by a group of photographers and interviewers attempting to interview him or take a picture of him.
Studio album by
Released29 September 1997
  • Battery, London
  • Maison Rouge, London
Robbie Williams chronology
Life thru a Lens
I've Been Expecting You
Singles from Life thru a Lens
  1. "Old Before I Die"
    Released: 14 April 1997
  2. "Lazy Days"
    Released: 14 July 1997
  3. "South of the Border"
    Released: 15 September 1997
  4. "Angels"
    Released: 1 December 1997
  5. "Let Me Entertain You"
    Released: 16 March 1998

Life thru a Lens is the debut solo studio album by English singer-songwriter Robbie Williams. It was Williams' first solo album following his departure from Take That. Released on 29 September 1997 through Chrysalis Records, it is influenced by Britpop, a departure from the poppier tone of the music Take That employed. The album's working name was The Show-Off Must Go On.[5]

The album's first three singles, "Old Before I Die", "Lazy Days" and "South of the Border" (the only single to miss the top 10), were all moderate successes, but it was the fourth single "Angels" which catapulted Williams to international fame as a solo artist. Peaking at number 4, it has sold over 1 million copies in the UK and is his biggest-selling single to date. Fifth and final single "Let Me Entertain You" reached number three, becoming the album's third top-5 hit. "Freedom," Williams' first solo single, a cover of George Michael's 1990 hit, is not featured on the album.

Life thru a Lens debuted at number 11 on the UK Albums Chart and initially remained in the lower regions, but, upon the chart success of "Angels", it began steadily climbing and finally reached number one in April 1998, five months after its release. Though never selling more than 60,000 copies in a single week, the album has sold over 2,094,000 copies as of November 2013, making it Williams' fourth-best-selling studio album and fifth-best-seller overall.[6]

The album cover art, a photograph of Williams at the centre of a crowd of photographers, was created by Andy Earl.[7]

Recording and music


After trying hard to find his own sound during a period of personal upheaval, Williams began recordings for the album at London's Maison Rouge studios in March 1997, shortly after his introduction to Guy Chambers. The title track, "Life thru a Lens" was written about his then-girlfriend Jacqueline Hamilton-Smith who was a socialite. It is often mistakenly attributed to Tara Palmer-Tompkinson, but they did not date until 2006. "Ego a Go Go" was written about Gary Barlow, "South of the Border" discusses Kate Moss, and "Baby Girl Window" was inspired by Samantha Beckinsale and her late father, actor Richard Beckinsale. "One of God's Better People" and "Angels" were inspired by Williams' mother, Jan. Hidden track "Hello, Sir" is a poem that takes a dig at one of Williams' former teachers.[8] Williams reprised part of the poem on the 1 Giant Leap song "My Culture".

The sound of the album is influenced by Britpop, especially bands such as Oasis,[1] a direction his former Take That bandmate Mark Owen had also chosen to pursue on his debut album Green Man (1996). John Bush of AllMusic said that Life thru a Lens "continually betrays overt influences from Oasis and other Britpop stars, but triumphs nevertheless due to gorgeous production, Williams' irresistible personality, and the overall flavor of outrageous, utterly enjoyable pop music."[1]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Guardian[9]
Music Week[10]

Writing for Melody Maker in October 1997, Robin Bresnark gave Life thru a Lens a negative review; "There's nothing here... sure, Robbie Williams is as fascinating a hapless goon as we're ever likely to come across. But this album feels more like a press release than an album – and that's not what I call music."[8] However, John Bush of AllMusic was very positive in his four and a half stars out of five review, calling the album "excellent" and "one of the best U.K. debuts of the '90s".[1]

Q ranked the album at number 43 in their 2004 list of "The 50 (+50) Best British Albums Ever"[citation needed] and in their unordered 2005 list of the "Ultimate Music Collection".[citation needed] Record Collector included the album in their unordered 2000 list of "10 Classic Albums from 21 Genres for the 21st Century",[citation needed] whilst Robert Dimery included the album in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[3]

Commercial performance


Life thru a Lens was released in October 1997, not long after Williams's stint in rehab. It was launched with his first live solo gig at the Élysée Montmartre in Paris. At first, the album was slow to take off, debuting at number 11 on the UK Albums Chart, and falling to 104 not long after release, having sold a little over 30,000 copies.[12] It reached the number one position after spending 27 weeks on the chart, as a consequence of the huge success of the "Angels" single, boosting the album's sales to 300,000.[13] The album spent a total of 218 weeks on the chart and two weeks at number one, becoming the 58th best selling album of all time in the UK with sales of 2.4 million copies.[14] Despite its success in Williams' homeland, the album failed to make a bigger impact in the international market. However, in Argentina, it reached the top ten in early 1998. Life thru a Lens has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide and has been certified as 8× Platinum in the UK.


  • "Old Before I Die", a track co-written by Williams, Eric Bazilian, and Desmond Child, was released as the album's lead single in April 1997, peaking at #2 on the UK Singles Chart. The song failed to make an impact in other international charts.
  • "Lazy Days" was released as the album's second single in the summer of 1997, amidst Williams' battle with addiction. He was allowed to check out from rehab to shoot the video for the song. The single charted at number-eight in the United Kingdom but, because promotion was nonexistent, struggled to reach the top forty of any other European chart.
  • "South of the Border" was released as the album's third single in September 1997. It failed to make a significant impact on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #14, and as such, many saw this as the end of Williams' solo career.[15]
  • "Angels", a song penned by Williams and Guy Chambers, was released as the album's fourth single. The decision to release the song came after Williams met the record company to discuss concerns about his future. The single was released in December 1997, soon becoming Williams' best selling-single in the United Kingdom, being certified 2× Platinum by the BPI.[16] The song became a hit around Europe and Latin America and sold almost two million copies worldwide, rocketing sales of his album.
  • "Let Me Entertain You" was released as the album's fifth and final single in March 1998. It peaked at #3 on the UK Singles Chart, becoming one of Williams' signature songs and being the opening song for most of Williams' concerts throughout his career.

Track listing

Life Thru a LensStandard edition
1."Lazy Days"
2."Life thru a Lens"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
3."Ego A Go Go"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
  • Williams
  • Chambers
5."South of the Border"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
6."Old Before I Die"3:53
7."One of God's Better People"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
8."Let Me Entertain You"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
9."Killing Me"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
11."Baby Girl Window"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
12."Hello Sir" (hidden track[note 1])Williams1:27
Total length:52:46
Life Thru a LensJapanese edition bonus tracks
13."Teenage Millionaire"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
14."She Makes Me High"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
  • Gary Nuttall
15."Hello Sir" (hidden track[note 1])Williams1:27
16."Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (hidden track[citation needed])3:03
Total length:56:57
Life Thru a LensRW 25th Anniversary bonus DVD
1."Old Before I Die" (Live on TOTP) 
2."Lazy Days" (Live on TOTP) 
3."South of the Border" (Live on TOTP) 
4."Angels" (Live on TOTP) 
5."Angels" (Unplugged – live on TOTP) 
6."The Full Monty Medley" (with Tom Jones) (Live at the Brit Awards) 
7."Michael Parkinson Interview" 
8."Let Me Entertain You" (Live on TOTP) 
9."Killing Me" (Live on TOTP) 
CD2 - Life On The Flipside; B-Sides and Bonus TracksRW 25th Anniversary
1."Freedom" (Full Length Version)5:52
2."Better Days"3:30
3."Average B Side"2:58
4."Making Plans For Nigel"4:04
6."Teenage Millionaire"3:10
7."Falling In Bed (Again)"3:29
8."She Makes Me High"3:23
9."Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"3:03
10."Lazy Days" (Original Version)4:30
11."Cheap Love Song"4:10
12."Walk This Sleigh"2:58
13."Karaoke Overkill"3:29
14."Get The Joke"3:03
15."Angels" (Acoustic)4:27
16."Angeles" (Spanish Version)4:28
17."Let Me Entertain You" (Full Length Version)5:18
18."The Full Monty Medley" (with Tom Jones) (Live at the Brit Awards)5:28
19."I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing"3:08
20."Iam The (Res)Erection"3:49
Total length:77:00
CD3 - Work In Progress: The Making of Life Thru A LensRW 25th Anniversary
1."Freedom" (Ambient Mix)5:34
2."Freedom" (New Sound Dub)11:14
3."Hey Little Girl" (Axis Studios Demo, October/November 1996)4:04
4."Clean" (Axis Studios Demo, October/November 1996)4:12
5."Old Before I Die" (Crescent Moon Studios Demo, October 1996)4:03
6."Lazy Days" (Tower Studios Demo, January 1997)3:54
7."Angels" (Tower Studios Demo, January 1997)4:19
8."Red Lights" (Tower Studios Demo, January 1997)2:58
9."Average B Side" (Westside Studios Demo, February 1997)3:00
10."Teenage Millionaire" (Rehearsal Recordings, Spring 1997)2:24
11."South Of The Border" (Rehearsal Recordings, Spring 1997)4:03
12."Killing Me" (Rehearsal Recordings, Spring 1997)3:56
13."Life Thru A Lens" (Rehearsal Recordings, Spring 1997)3:15
14."South Of The Border" (Mother's Milkin' It Mix)7:09
15."Let Me Entertain You" (The Bizarro Mix)5:54
Total length:70:07
CD4 - Life On The StageRW 25th Anniversary
1."Let Me Entertain You" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)7:24
2."I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Things" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:14
3."Clean" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:47
4."South Of The Border" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:06
5."Average B Side" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:21
6."Baby Girl Window" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:37
7."One Of God's Better People" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:13
8."There She Goes" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)2:56
9."Killing Me" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:06
10."Life thru A Lens" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:07
11."Teenage Millionaire" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)3:51
12."Lazy Days" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)6:22
13."Ego A Go Go" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:41
14."Old Before I Die" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:51
15."Angels" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:51
16."Back For Good" (Live At The Forum, London, UK/1998)4:09
Total length:68:46


  1. ^ a b "Hello Sir" is a hidden track on the original compact disc version of the album. It is a spoken word lyric poem addressed to a former schoolteacher.[17]


  • Robbie Williams – vocals, backing vocals
  • Guy Chambers – keyboards, guitar, backing vocals
  • Chris Sharrock – drums, snare
  • Andy Duncan – percussion
  • Martin Slattery – keyboards
  • Mark Feltham – harmonica
  • Gary Nuttall – guitar, backing vocals
  • Steve Power – keyboards, programming
  • Geoff Dugmore – drums, percussion
  • Steve Bush – programming
  • Derek Watkins – trumpet
  • Fil Eisler – guitar, bass guitar, tom-tom
  • Mark Smith – bass guitar, programming
  • Oscar O'Loughlin – guitar
  • Mark Smith – guitar, programming
  • Steve Sidwell – trumpet
  • Chester Kamen – guitar
  • Steve “Smiley” Barnard – drums, backing vocals
  • Dave Catlin-Birch – bass guitar, backing vocals
  • Kerry Hopwood – programming
  • André Barreau – guitar, backing vocals
  • Beverley Skeete – backing vocals
  • Carroll Thompson – backing vocals
  • Andy Caine – backing vocals
  • Claudia Fontaine – backing vocals
  • Nicole Patterson – backing vocals

Charts and certifications



Certifications and sales for Life thru a Lens
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[36] Gold 35,000^
Belgium (BEA)[37] Gold 25,000*
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[38] Gold 25,000^
Germany (BVMI)[39] Gold 250,000
Ireland (IRMA)[40] 4× Platinum 60,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[41] Gold 50,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[42] 2× Platinum 30,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[43] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[44] 8× Platinum 2,400,000^
Europe (IFPI)[45] 3× Platinum 3,000,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c d e Bush, John. "Life Thru a Lens – Robbie Williams". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  2. ^ Fawthrop, Peter. "Ronan – Ronan Keating". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 February 2021. while Robbie Williams went all out with an egocentric rock album and became a British landmark
  3. ^ a b c Robert Dimery; Michael Lydon (23 March 2010). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: Revised and Updated Edition. Universe. ISBN 978-0-7893-2074-2.
  4. ^ Ranking the top 10 Robbie Williams albums from worst to best
  5. ^ Southall, Nick (5 November 2014). "Robbie Williams – Greatest Hits – Review – Stylus Magazine". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  6. ^ Sutherland, Mark (9 May 2016). "By the numbers: inside Robbie Williams' albums career". Music Week. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  7. ^ "New Book Chronicles Rock Photographer's Best Shots". MTV.com. 29 December 2000. Archived from the original on 7 January 2024. Retrieved 7 January 2024.
  8. ^ a b Bresnark, Robin. "Review: Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens, Chrysalis". Melody Maker (4 October 1997): 51.
  9. ^ Sullivan, Caroline (26 September 1997). "Robbie Williams: Life Thru a Lens (Chrysalis)". The Guardian.
  10. ^ "Reviews: Albums" (PDF). Music Week. 20 September 1997. p. 31. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  11. ^ Cigarettes, Johnny (27 September 1997). "Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens (Chrysalis)". NME. Archived from the original on 16 August 2000. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  12. ^ Scott, Paul. "Heaven-sent hit that gave Robbie solo wings – Scotsman.com News". News.scotsman.com. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  13. ^ "Life Thru a Lens". RobbieWilliams.com.
  14. ^ "Certified Awards". British Phonographic Industry. Archived from the original on 24 January 2013.
  15. ^ "Robbie Williams, "South of the Border"". Rtl.musicbrigade.com. Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  16. ^ BPI Certification for "Angels"
  17. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01kw711
  18. ^ "Discography – Album – Life Thru a Lens". RobbieWilliams.com.
  19. ^ "Australiancharts.com – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens". Hung Medien.
  20. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens" (in German). Hung Medien.
  21. ^ "Ultratop.be – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens" (in Dutch). Hung Medien.
  22. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens" (in Dutch). Hung Medien.
  23. ^ "IFPI – Robbie Williams: Life Thru a Lens". IFPI.
  24. ^ "Tous les Albums de l'Artiste choisi". InfoDisc. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  25. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 8 December 2021.
  26. ^ "Billboard: Hits of the World (Page 59)". Billboard. 9 May 1998. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  27. ^ "Charts.nz – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens". Hung Medien.
  28. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  29. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens". Hung Medien.
  30. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  31. ^ "Official Top 100 vinyl albums". Official Charts Company. 1 October 2021. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  32. ^ "Robbie Williams: Life Thru A Lens". 9 December 2022. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  33. ^ "End of Year Album Chart Top 100 – 1997". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  34. ^ "End of Year Album Chart Top 100 – 1998". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  35. ^ "End of Year Album Chart Top 100 – 1999". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  36. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2006 Albums" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  37. ^ "Ultratop − Goud en Platina – albums 2005". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  38. ^ "Robbie Williams: Life Thru A Lens – August 1998 Certified by IFPI Denmark No. 1998/43". Liveauctioneers.com. Archived from the original on 24 November 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  39. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Robbie Williams; 'Life Thru A Lens')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  40. ^ "Official 1999 I.R.M.A. Certified Quadruple Platinum Award – Robbie Williams: Life Thru A Lens". Eil.com. Archived from the original on 10 May 2005. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  41. ^ "Dutch album certifications – Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved 24 November 2021. Enter Life Thru A Lens in the "Artiest of titel" box. Select 2001 in the drop-down menu saying "Alle jaargangen".
  42. ^ Scapolo, Dean (2007). The Complete New Zealand Music Charts: 1966–2006. Maurienne House. ISBN 978-1-877443-00-8.
  43. ^ "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards ('Life Thru A Lens')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  44. ^ "British album certifications – Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  45. ^ "IFPI Platinum Europe Awards – 2002". International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 24 November 2021.