There's plenty more self-mythologizing in the wildly uneven Escapology. ''I'm still the boy next door/That's if you're Lord Lichfield and Roger Moore/Have I gone up in the world/Or has the world gone down on me/I'm the one who put the Brit in celebrity,'' he tells us in ''Handsome Man.'' Funny stuff, arguably, but these aren't lyrics so much as unabashed album-review bait. After a hard day suffering unironic narcissists like Xtina and 50 Cent, it's difficult for critics to resist the false humility in lines like ''I'm here to make money and get laid/Yeah I'm a star but I'll fade,'' ''It's not very complicated/I'm just young and overrated,'' and ''I am scum.''
Maybe we reviewers need to stop being enablers, because ''Escapology'''s best songs -- the ones with the greatest shot of winning over America -- are its least quotable. For the U.S. edition of the album, which topped the overseas charts last fall, Williams has wisely dropped four of his trademark hubris-heavy numbers and replaced 'em with two slightly more generic but superior potential singles (''One Fine Day,'' a midtempo ballad whose wistful title and melody brilliantly disguise bitter breakup lyrics, and ''Get a Little High,'' a seemingly pro-recreational-substance teen pep talk). In the half of ''Escapology'' that works, he and cowriter Guy Chambers ditch the ego trip and demonstrate a journeyman's audacity, jumping from the sweet, horn-inflected Memphis soul of ''Something Beautiful'' to the surprisingly credible, distorted alt-rock of the steel-guitar-driven ''How Peculiar'' to an Elton-and-Kiki-style duet moment on ''Revolution.''
Occasionally, Williams even manages candor without cockiness. ''There's a hole in my soul/You can see it in my face/It's a real big place,'' he sings, almost movingly, in the lushly melancholic opener, ''Feel.'' You might be able to relate, with or without James Bond as a neighbor.