Since Robbie returned to the Take That fold, the hoopla surrounding the now fab five has spiralled further into the dizzying distance with every passing day. They thought The Circus tour was big, but Progress broke all records last week, selling ten squillion tickets in three minutes flat. And the Progress album is deemed too gold to be sent out to journalists – instead, we have to troop to offices for listening sessions under the watchful eye of grinning PRs. Things ain’t like they used to be. But then again, maybe that’s because Take That, judging from this album, ain’t what they used to be either. The Circus was a polite album, full of knees-up choruses and Barlow balladry. This time round though, with Robbie on-board, Take That have taken a giant leap into the unknown, embracing electronic wizardry, meandering lyrics, military drumbeats and chiselled production…
So the question is, have Take That gone crazy? I don’t think so. But prepare yourself – The Flood was just a tease and this album sounds nothing like The Circus or Beautiful World. This is, if you like, Take That’s Rudebox, only with Gary’s innate sense of melody to reign things in so that it never veers off into the murky beyond in quite the way Robbie did. On the plus side though, this album is also a huge pile of fun, which certainly cannot have been said about The Circus.
It kicks off with The Flood which will have doused your radio dial liberally over the past few weeks. So far, so Robbie’s comeback single with Gary stepping chivalrously aside. The next track though – SOS – mashes its industrial drums, layered guitars and punchy, political vibe into your face until you cry out for mercy. It’s like TT are set on working till they’re musclebound (all night long). It also has Mark on lead vocals – Shine has so much to answer for. SOS sets the tone for the rest of the album – dark, barmy, edgy. A surefire single then, with other contenders being Kidz, Happy Now and Eight Letters.
Kidz again has Mark shredding the verses, with Robbie saving things with a hard-as-nails chorus which was still pinging around my brain when I woke up this morning. Think police sirens, heavy beats and Robbie savagely slurring: “There will be trouble when the kids come out!” It only takes a minute for this glam-rock opus to become an earworm.
The downside of Progress is that you have to get to track six – track six! – for Gary to have a lead vocal. Happy Now sounds like the love child of Ziggy Stardust and the Pet Shop Boys. “Super-heavy elements embrace me,” chirrups Gary, lost amid a sea of electronics. Really, when has Gary ever sung anything like that? A Million Love Songs it ain’t. He saves that till the end with a pure Barlow-penned Take That track Eight Letters – “Eight letters, three words, one meaning,” croons Gary from his piano stool and suddenly we’re back in lighters-in-the-air, safe TT territory. If feels such a relief. In between times, there’s space for Mark to squawk about his failed marraige on What Do You Want From Me? (to shut up is the obvious answer); and Howard and Jason get a song each with Affirmation and a hidden track.
This album was written by the Take That collective over the past year, but it reeks of Robbie and is so over-produced that you sometimes struggle to make out who’s singing what. However, we shouldn’t rough up TT for striving to take a different path. They are, after all, a changed band now – a quintet with new dynamics to embrace and this is the result. For not trotting out another Circus, we salute them. I’m just not sure that all the mums who bought their tour tickets will be excited about hearing this one live.
Take That’s new album Progress is out on November 15th.