Take That’s new album: is this “Progress”?
Forget the brit-pop rhythm inspired by many English and American boy bands of the ‘80s (New Kids On The Block) built to attract young girls, which characterized “Take That & Party”, the first album published by the British band. Forget the melodic and romantic sound of “Everything Changes” (which reminded the Spandau Ballet) composed when the band began to have a more seductive approach. Forget also “Nobody Else”’s hits that let more people appreciate Take That’s music and showed us a more mature project.
Forget Gary Barlow’s beautiful voice that used to be the protagonist of most songs and during the concerts or the one of Robbie Williams, which we appreciated all over the world thanks to his solo career. Don’t be fooled even by the single Shame, recorded by Barlow and Williams for Rob’Greatest Hits, that made us enjoy a mix of the two artists’stylistic figures (Love is all around echoes in the arrangements) alluding to a text that seems to really talk about the relationship between the two.
Moreover, the first single from TT’s new album, The Flood, is misleading: it seems to link with the latest production of the quartet, adding Williams’s contributions and of course, it’s a well-composed and catchy song, characterized by a moderate rhythmic thrust – although not overwhelming – but, like Shame, it isn’t representative at all of the album “Progress”.
Forget, in conclusion, the old Take That, because in this CD, realized in great secrecy by the quintet, nothing remained of the old boy band and probably the radical departure from the past was what we had to expect for a reunion that involved Robbie Williams.
TT have grown, matured, let’s say aged and the formula that saw them young and beautiful, performing acrobatic choreographies on stage, throwing towels to the delirious fans (who responded to them with panties), making dirty and provocative jokes, at the overwhelming rhythm of pop songs signed by Gary (and mostly sung by him, while others were dancing) could no longer fit. Robbie, Gary, Mark, Howard, and Jason have all made up together every song on “Progress” and this is the first innovation. The voices of Barlow, Williams, and Owen are perhaps those that we can identify more easily but tend to be amalgamated with those of the other two in choral performance and, especially, are quite secondary to the instrumental and electronic, showing a significant reworking done in the studio. It’s difficult, then, to imagine this repertoire live. Gary Barlow plays keyboards in every song, Howard Donald plays drums in The Flood and Kidz. We recognize the contribution of Robbie Williams in some melodic parts of Happy Now and Wait (and in the chorus, the contribution of Barlow). Williams seems to go back to the inspiration that gave birth to his “Rude Box” and often draws on the dance music of the ‘80s. In Sos there’s the pop-rock that characterized “Life Through A Lens” mixed with disco dance, in a Pet Shop Boys style (which also influenced Williams in its production) while the apocalyptic lyrics are in Rob’s style. Kidz, one of the strongest musical experiments of the album, suggests a lot of songs and artists of the past: Gorillaz Feel Good Inc or, going back to the ‘60s, even Pink Floyd, all occurred in an 80s style arrangement. With Pretty Things and the songs that follow, the album, unfortunately, suffers a decline, lacks energy, isn’t addictive, and sounds old. Underground Machine goes on a running time like Kidz, What do you want from me? has a nice melody and heartfelt lyrics but isn’t enhanced by the voice of Mark, limited in power and extension, that reduces the song into a personal lament. This is followed by Affirmation and the conclusion takes us back in the style of The Flood with Eight Letters which yet misses the emotional charge of the first, followed by a hidden track.
The historical Take That’fans would probably be disappointed, noting that the group is no longer “their” Take That. The rest of the people, who perhaps had previously snubbed the project by Nigel Martin Smith (TT ex-manager), may seize the chance to find out a completely different project and appreciate the effort made by those who we now consider 5 real musicians, in an attempt to finally get rid of an old label and to look for a new identity. We still have to consider, however, if the group succeeded or if this “Progress” is still a “Work in progress” towards a more definite, complete, and original shape.