It’s funny how nostalgia can play funny tricks on you. If you were over 18, male and straight in the early ’90s, then the chances are that you hated Take That. You hated the cutesy media image (ooh look, it’s the cute one, it’s the cheeky one, it’s the one who writes the songs), you hated the fact that they were a manufactured boy band who topped the charts while Nirvana were slaying the rest of the world, and you hated the fact that they were unashamedly pop music.
These days, it’s more than likely that those very same people who despised the biggest boy band of the ’90s may well look back on them with something approaching fondness. After all, they were kinda…fun. And they wrote some decent songs (no matter what anyone says, Pray, Back For Good and Relight My Fire still sound great today), and when you compare them to the likes of the moribund balladering of Westlife, well, we never had it so good really did we?
You could be forgiven for greeting the Take That reunion with more than a bit of cynicism. When ‘the one who went a bit druggy and mad’ becomes the only ex-member with any commercial success and Mark Owen’s victory in Celebrity Big Brother is the most newsworthy event that any band member can muster, you can only presume that times are hard. So perhaps it’s right that they’re back together – Mark can forget his desperate attempts to appeal to the indie market, Gary Barlow can stop the guest spots on Heartbeat, Howard Donald can give DJ-ing a rest for a while, and Jason Orange can…well, stop whatever he’s been doing, and get back to what they’re best at.
Luckily, Beautiful World is the sound of a band that has matured with their audience. They’re savvy enough to realise that their target audience will be as old as they are these days, and it’s pointless trying to compete with the McFlys of this world. It’s an album of almost exclusively mid-paced ballads, beautifully produced and sung and with choruses that expertedly stick in the memory. Take That are a much more democratic band these days as well, with all four members taking turns at lead vocals, and songwriting credited to “Take That” rather than Gary Barlow.
And mostly, it works very well. Beautiful World isn’t a particularly revolutionary album, and it’s likely that any pre-teens who are wondering what on earth their mothers got so excited about a few years ago will be a bit non-plussed. Yet those people who loved them over a decade over will be more than pleased with the resulting album.
There’s a definite epic quality to some of the tracks here – opening song Reach Out is reminiscent of Keane with its piano and ‘power ballad’ style chorus. The boys harmonies haven’t suffered over the years either, mixing perfectly together to create that quintessential ‘Radio 2′ moment. The much heralded comeback single Patience is also impressive, built on an acoustic guitar motif, and swelling up to another heartwarming chorus.
Shine proves a successful move away from the ballads, starting off in an almost funky manner, with Mark taking lead vocals and sounding like a Mancunian Jake Shears. If The Feeling want to know how to write a proper cheesy pop song without the cringe factor, then they could do a lot worse than listen to this. Possibly the standout track though is Mancunian Way, another epic ballad with some lovely reflective lyrics. It nicely leads into Jason Orange’s first recorded vocal, Wooden Boat, and surprisingly enough he sounds very impressive on the acoustic folky ballad – weirdly reminiscent of Seth Lakeman in fact.
If there’s a fault here, it’s that most of the songs here lack that pop hook that made old Take That songs so memorable. They’re all nice enough, and make for pleasant background listening, but you can’t shake the feeling that had this been a Gary Barlow solo album it would have sunk without trace. Yet that’s unlikely to put off the 30somethings who’ll snap this up hungrily – Take That may not rule the world again, but this is enough to have them back for good in their fans hearts again.