It would be easy to dismiss Take That as a bunch of past-itpopstars reheating their old hits to cynically extort oodles of cashout of their now older, but certainly not wiser, fans. The fact thattheir reformation comes without star-turn Robbie Williamsonly serves to heighten the feeling that the boys are just cashing inon a nostalgic wave as boy bands across the world seem to be (finally)a dying breed.
However, unlike insipid successors Westlife,East 17 et al, Take That were, for their sins, bloody good – aheady mixture of camp, stonking pop songs and a real sense that theyweren’t taking it half as seriously as their fans were. And, with anew album on the back of their jaunt round Britain’s arenas, perhapsthere is more to this than simply pound signs flashing in GaryBarlow’s eyes.
To launch this album, Beautiful World, and to remind the countryjust who Gary, Mark, Howard and… err… the other one are, we’ve beeninvited down to an exclusive soiree at Abbey Road studios, for a tapedbroadcast for Radio 2. Despite the gaggle of twentysomething female fanscrushed against the famous railings more resembling a Blackpool hennight than a concert, the gig itself a surprisingly mature affair, theboys backed by a string section, fancy lighting and, for the slowies,strings of fairy lights.
As they take to the stage after aninterminable pause, at least three of them still possessing the modellooks that first took them to a nation of teenagers hearts, the 90%female audience throws away any inhibitions they’ve acquired over thelast ten years and SCREAMS.
It may be a mark of how ambitious the band are that they start withthree (count ‘em) new songs, rather than leaping onstage to a rousingchorus of Take That and Party. If it’s a gamble, it’s one which paysoff handsomely. Sandwiched between two decent power ballads, newsingle Patience is fantastic – a mature, intelligent pop song with acatchy hook, and one that takes on a whole new life with a fullbacking band.
As the band decline to mention the titles of most newnumbers, it’s a little difficult to pass judgement on the others, butif this sets the tone for the forthcoming album Take That could be onthe verge of releasing their best work to date.
So it’s almost a shame that they decide to spend much of therest of the evening plundering their back catalogue. Despite thisbeing what the fans turned out for, much of the new material (asidefrom the soppy, Westlife-alike Beautiful World) is so good you’re actuallyleft clamouring for more. A breathy Babe is dispatched early, as isthe rubbish but enormously fun Everything Changes. Barlow pulls out allthe emotive hand gestures for the rapturously received Back For Good,as he does on Pray and, well, petty much every other song of theevening.
If it’s one thing that lets this concert, and probably the wholereunion, down is that this is very obviously Barlow’s gig, and thatMark, Howard and err… the other one are merely along for the ride.Barlow is the one fronting the dreadful turn in Brian Potter-esquenorthern “banter” with the audience. He’s the one who announces thesongs, sings lead on the hits and once, spectacularly, announcesHoward will sing a song and then joins in after just one verse.
Poor old… is it Jason?… doesn’t even get to sing a section of thecringe-worthy Beatles medley they massacre by way of an encore.It’s unfair. He has much the better voice than the other three, but youget the distinct impression, as Barlow mugs to the audience at the endwhile the others look on, grinning sheepishly, that he’s finally seen anopportunity to drag himself out of Robbie Williams’ giant shadow, andhe’s not going to let it slip away.
However, this is a minor quibble. By the time the band belt outcast iron classic Never Forget at the end, they’ve conclusively shownthat they are still the benchmark that any British pop group shouldaspire to, and with a promising new album out soon, this may very wellbe one reunion that lasts.