Life thru a Lens

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Life thru a Lens
Life thru a Lens cover.png
Studio album by
Released29 September 1997
StudioBattery Studios, Maison Rouge Studios
(London, England)
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 music Take That employed. The album's working name was The Show-Off Must Go On.[3]

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," Robbie's first solo success, 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.[4]

Recording and music[edit]

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 Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, "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.[5] 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[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
The Guardian[6]

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."[5] 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" and in their unordered 2005 list of the "Ultimate Music Collection".[8] Record Collector included the album in their unordered 2000 list of "10 Classic Albums from 21 Genres for the 21st Century",[8] whilst Robert Dimery included the album in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[9]

Commercial performance[edit]

The album was released in October 1997, not long after Williams's stint in rehab. The album 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.[10] The album 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.[11] 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 with sales of 2.4 million copies.[12] Despite the album's success in Williams' homeland, it failed to make a bigger impact in the international market. However, in Argentina, the album reached the top ten in early 1998. The album has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide. The album 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.[13]
  • "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.[14] 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[edit]

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)Williams1:26
Life Thru a LensJapanese edition bonus tracks
13."Teenage Millionaire"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
14."She Makes Me High"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
  • Gary Nuttall
Life Thru a LensBack for B-sides (MVC special compilation CD)
1."Karaoke Overkill"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
2."Average B-Side"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
3."Cheap Love Song"
  • Williams
  • O. Morris
  • C. Abbott
4."Better Days"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
6."Deceiving Is Believing"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
7."Rome Munich Rome"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
8."Falling in Bed Again"
  • Williams
  • Matt Hay
9."Get the Joke"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
  • Gary Nuttall
10."Love Cheat"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
11."I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing"3:07
12."Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"Cole Porter3:03
13."Happy Song"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
14."I Am the Res-erection"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
15."Kooks"David Bowie2:37
16."She Makes Me High"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
  • Nuttall
17."Teenage Millionaire"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
18."Sexed Up" (demo)
  • Williams
  • Chambers
19."Making Plans for Nigel"Colin Moulding4:06
20."Walk This Sleigh"
  • Williams
  • Chambers
21."Lazy Days" (demo)
  • Williams
  • Chambers
Life Thru a LensRW 20th 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) 
  • MVC stores in the UK offered a free bonus CD with the purchase of either Life Thru a Lens or I've Been Expecting You during Christmas 1999. The album did not contain any unreleased material, but contained twenty-one previously released B-sides and demos from both eras.


  • 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
  • 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
  • Smiler – backing vocals
  • Nicole Patterson – backing vocals

Charts and certifications[edit]


Certifications and sales for Life thru a Lens
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[32] Gold 35,000^
Belgium (BEA)[33] Gold 25,000*
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[34] Gold 25,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[35] 4× Platinum 60,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[36] Gold 50,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[37] 2× Platinum 30,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[38] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[39] 8× Platinum 2,400,000^
Europe (IFPI)[40] 3× Platinum 3,000,000*

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


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  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. ^ 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.
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  8. ^ a b "Acclaimed Music – Life Thru a Lens". Acclaimed Music.
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  23. ^ "Billboard: Hits of the World (Page 59)". Billboard. 9 May 1998. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  24. ^ " – Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens". Hung Medien.
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  35. ^ "Official 1999 I.R.M.A. Certified Quadruple Platinum Award – Robbie Williams: Life Thru A Lens". Archived from the original on 10 May 2005. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
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