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Williams Reportedly Signs Mega-Deal, Eyes U.S.

Pop heart-throb Robbie Williams has signed the biggest record deal in British music history, The Sun newspaper said Wednesday.

The shares of EMI Group Plc climbed five percent in London after tabloid reports that the record company had signed a $125.5 million deal with the former Take That singer hailed as the new Frank Sinatra.

The deal, thought to be for four albums, will give the performer unique control over his work and includes a commitment to try to make him a star in the United States, a market he has failed to break into, the newspaper reported.

EMI representatives declined to comment and Williams’ publicist was not immediately available, but analysts immediately doubted that EMI would have signed such a large deal, particularly because of its checkered history with big name signings. “Eighty million is wide of the mark, maybe by 100 percent,” said Kingsley Wilson, an analyst at Investec Securities.

In April 2001, EMI penned a deal with American performer Mariah Carey for an estimated $100 million – but she was cut loose with a $30 million pay-off after her album flopped.

Wilson doubted whether EMI’s new head of recorded music would ever agree to such a huge deal for Williams.

“Maybe in the EMI of old, but Alain Levy will not allow a deal of this size to go through under his new principle of managing the business for cash and not chasing market share any more,” he told Reuters.

Williams’ “Swing When You’re Winning” album was EMI’s best-selling release last year, at 5.4 million copies, despite not being released in the United States.

That compares to the Beatles “1” album, which sold 22 million in the previous year.

EMI, whose stars include Lenny Kravitz and Janet Jackson, said earlier in the year that it was scrapping the “EMI” name as a label and combining back-office operations of all its imprints as part of plans to cut costs and improve creativity.

Music groups have been under pressure to slash costs and restructure as the industry endures one of its worst slumps, amid a dearth of major hits, rampant piracy and an economic downturn that has hammered album sales.

The company is rejigging its labels under two global brands – Virgin and Capitol – and has streamlined its international management.

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