It’s like candy

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Robbie Williams’ managers were clever.

Rather than risk a series of potential duds, Williams’ U.S. label, Capitol, culled the best tracks from the erstwhile British sex symbol’s first two albums and packaged it as his debut.

The Ego Has Landed was trimmed of filler, and it was one of the guiltiest pleasures of 1999 — a textbook collection of pop that neither disguised its commercial appeal nor totally surrendered to straight-forward formula.

Sing When You’re Winning, as such, is Robbie’s first album released on both sides of the Atlantic without doctoring.

How does it hold up? Very well, actually.

“Let Love Be Your Energy” contains one of the most infectous choruses written this year. “Rock DJ” can easily be one of those silly, grating songs that induces chronic head-bobbing.

Williams is as much a party-guy as he is introspective pop singer-songwriter. For every feel-good Wham!-George Michael moment like “Kids,” there’s heart-felt balladering such as “If It’s Hurting You.”

“Better Man” attempts to be the album’s “Angels,” while “Supreme” fails in its attempt to incorporate a clever quote — this time, Gloria Gaynor’s “Survive” — as effectively as “Millenium.”

In short, it’s business as usual for Williams, who is pretty much a national obsession in his native England — well-crafted Europop that suites his rough-hewned voice. Williams has struck on a very lucrative muse, and even he’s smart enough not to fix what isn’t broken.

At the same time, Sing When You’re Winning is like an Enya album — it’s the same one Williams has been recording for the past four years, and if a listener really wants to be picky about it, there’s fault to be found.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that there are few surprises on this album, and it won’t recreate that kind of revelatory feelings first-time listenrs experience upon hearing a couplet like “I look like Kiss but without the make-up.”

Not a bad thing really. Williams and his collaborators, namely Guy Chambers, are a hook factory, and they produce some nice ear candy.