Okay, so it doesn’t take a mystic to work out that Robbie Williams going back to Take That was going to be a big deal but come on people, this is ridiculous. The veteran man-band have just broken all records, selling a million tickets in a single day, breaking half the internet in the process, and securing the biggest UK tour in the history of the universe.
Big wow you may think. Take That are the biggest act in the country for a while now. The thing is, none of this should have ever happened. Take That’s return was never supposed to amount to anything other than a quick victory lap of hormonal nostalgia for that generation of women who were all approaching 30: the hen do market gone high-end.
Personally I’ve never apologized for liking pop music, but as a kid who was just finding indie and its dogma as Take That exploded, they always felt a bit icky to me. I could never buy into this reunion, could only admit that ‘Pray’ is an amazing song and stood by non-plussed as they quietly took over the world for a second time. What was impossible to swallow was that Take That got huge by smoothing off their edges and blanding out.
What were conceived as a ludicrous Hi-NRG fantasy from the pavements of Manchester’s Canal Street were reduced, through the rising influence of glamour vacuum Gary Barlow, into a beige muso accessory. One without the things that make pop music brilliant, the things we got into this for, things like sex and wit and colour and repetitive beats. And lasers.
The ironic thing of course is that all of this is happening during a year in which pop music in general is pretty amazing. The very middle of the mainstream has never sounded so genuinely edgy and boundary-pushing. The tedious rivalry between Cheryl and Nadine may be eating column inches, but that’s just light entertainment. Look around. The UK’s hottest new popstar is Tinie Tempah, who has successfully given his authentic and urgent grime career a fabulously Technicolor refit.
Robyn is bringing technotronic 90s club anthems to the higher reaches of the pop charts. Kelis has come back with the soundtrack to God’s own rave party that can cause epic landslides. The world’s biggest pop star is Rihanna, a vocal supporter of the UK dubstep underground and a woman who launched her last album campaign with a song about getting shot in the head – and who launched this one by having a food fight live on The X Factor. And The X Factor itself is off its head this year, Simon Cowell apparently sincere in his bid to uncover “a new generation of popstar who isn’t boring”.
Meanwhile, below ground it’s deliciously fertile. If you go and see Ellie Goulding on tour this month, well you can leave before the end, but arrive early and you’ll see one of the seasons’ finest support bills in the shape of nouveau cred-poppers Bright Light Bright Light and Sunday Girl. Both as grass-roots muso as anything on Pitchfork, both treat pop with the seriousness it deserves, both kind of amazing (they may even have lasers). And that’s a good job frankly, seeing as this has been one of the most boring years for indie since records began.
Against this backdrop, the onward march of the Take That mutha starts to look a bit depressing. We’re all for a happy ending, but was it really supposed to go this far? WELL. There might just be an encouraging twist in this tale. In this new world, Take That look like being forced to raise their game. Comeback single ‘The Flood’ may be more of the earnest same, but there’s no arguing with the fact that it’s strongest track since their return.
But it’s the reports of what’s going on with the album ‘Progress’ that’s making us reconsider everything we thought we knew about the universe. The word is that ‘Progress’ sounds like something along the lines of Muse making a techno record. Which doesn’t make any sense, but than factor in Stuart Price as producer and it might just not be another album of motivational mid-tempo dulladry.
I’m not buying any of this thus far, and yet I’m in the grip of a sensation I’ve never felt before. I’m looking forward to hearing the new Take That album.