Album Review: Take That, 'Progress' (Polydor)
Gary Barlow and co's surprisingly ballsy return
[a]Robbie Williams[/a]’ once invincible solo career was held to ransom by little green men. The other four’s lucrative tours were merely a kind of all-singing, clothes-on Chippendales show. [a]Take That[/a]’s reunion, really, was as predictable as the monthly cycles of the majority of the 1.35 million who broke the internet buying tickets for next summer’s whopping tour.
Yet since the five-piece dominated the early ’90s, the pop landscape has shifted, claimed by Simon Cowell and the lurid artifice of Gaga. Musical tribalism, which in 1995 made Robbie Williams’ Glasto hang-out with [a]Oasis[/a] front page news, now feels like a quaint prejudice from a bygone age.
Take That have dealt with this curious situation by doing the unexpected and writing [b]‘Progress’[/b], a deranged, triumphant and quite crudely banging stadium synth-pop record. Ballads? Forget it – this is all wallop, driven along by Stuart Price’s production, paddled-buttock wobblebeats and hard, expensive synths. [b]‘Progress’[/b] was written as such a departure Take That even considered changing their name to The English.
Anyone heading to Wembley will be in for a shock. Opener ‘The Flood’ is as unrelenting as a biblical deluge, before the even more bizarre ‘SOS’, where a pile-up of about three choruses take on Muse in the bombast stakes.
You can hear the influence of Bowie on [b]‘Progress’[/b]’ best track, ‘Kidz’, that curiously nasal tone seeping into Mark Owen’s voice over the sort of dystopian electronica OMD or Depeche Mode ought to be making.
There is a tail-off in quality at the end, but every track still has a chorus that Swedish song factories would sell their grannies for and, most of all, there’s a sense that Take That are genuinely challenging themselves here. While those groups who were once on the other side of the ’90s indie vs pop divide are content to play their hits at festivals, it’s Take That setting the pace. Progress? Embrace it.