Robbie may have gone on to make better (or at least more consistently satisfying) albums, but 'Life thru a lens' will always retain pride of place in the hearts of us Robbiephiles, when, what could have been a self-pitying play for sympathy (especially after that misjudged first single, the cover of 'Freedom'), turned out not to need any excuses whatsoever.
At the time, cred-building Robbie was finding succour in then-popular Oasis, and their baleful influence can be seen on songs like 'Lazy Days' and 'South of the Border', although he brings his own alchemical ingredients, like 'imagination' and 'wit', though, sadly, not 'melody'. There are a couple of lovely ballads here ('One of God's better people', 'Baby Girl Window'), and 'Clean' is an amusingly self-mocking take on the pop star misbehaving in public (Robbie's lyrics are so endearingly naive in their confessional literalism they frequently become clever and truthful).
It is, of course, the magnificent singles that sustain 'Lens', all using Robbie's 60s/70s/showbiz fascinations with intelligence: the speedpop ranting title track; the pubrock humility of 'Old Before I die'; the simultaneously arrogant and gracious 'Let me entertain you', a Kiss-tribute rock dazzler that easily out-pummells its source. Oh, and a trifle called 'Angels', a song of staggering (emotional) maturity, a ballad whose poignancy arises from the recognition that happiness, never mind perfection, is an ungraspable dream: it is, quite simply, one of the ten best songs ever written.