This riotous production wins me over on many levels, not least on account of the marvellous lyrics — my personal highlight being the first verse’s elaborate tease, where 10 things are rhymed with “-utin” in as many seconds, but without (in clear defiance of most people’s expectations) including the name of the Russian leader. And Williams’ delivery of those lyrics is also superlative. I’ve often felt that Robbie Williams is underrated as a singer, but I think he’s tremendous — any weaknesses he might have in terms of technique or range are entirely eclipsed by sheer style and force of character.
What particularly impresses me here is his use of rhythm. For a start, the chorus hook displays a great example of something that novice songwriters rarely take advantage of: putting the lyric’s natural stresses at odds with those of the main groove. So although the most obvious way to sing the phrase “party like a Russian” would be to put the naturally stressed syllables “par-” and “Ru-” on the upbeat and downbeat respectively, what Williams does here is shift the “Ru-” an eighth-note late, putting the surrounding syllables “a” and “-ssian” on the downbeat and backbeat respectively, instantly giving the hook tons more swagger. And what makes that (and indeed many of the other chorus lines) even more striking is that their magisterially confident rhythmic liberties are contrasted with both the metronomic chanting of the verses and the stomping eighth notes of the “put a doll inside a doll”/“have it like an oligarch” turnaround in each chorus’ fourth and eighth bars. It’s simply masterful vocal arrangement.
While filching hooks from the Classic FM Hall Of Fame is admittedly rather a cheap trick, you have to give credit to the producers for recognising the inherent modulatory potential of their chosen material. If you check out the original orchestral music (‘Dance Of The Knights’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet), the arpeggiated string chords that feature so prominently in this song alternate with a second, more ominous brass theme (surely an inspiration for the Star Wars ‘Imperial March’). Linking the two themes is a bar where the string arpeggios jettison their ponderous orchestral accompaniment and suddenly hop into a new key, and it’s this bar the producers of ‘Party Like A Russian’ have used to announce the modulation into their final chorus, brilliantly leveraging its cultural baggage (ie. that the modulatory nature of this bar is already firmly fixed in the collective consciousness) to make their hoary old here-we-go-up-a-semitone cliché seem less superficial than it has any right to.
And to cap it all, the video contains a flash of pure genius. What you hear: the middle section’s ‘men’s military choir’. What you see: a dozen bolshy princesses in fluffy white gowns. Unmissable!