It would be easy to dismiss Take That as a bunch of past-it pop stars reheating their old hits to cynically extort oodles of cash out of their now older, but certainly not wiser, fans. The fact that their reformation comes without star-turn Robbie Williams only serves to heighten the feeling that the boys are just cashing in on 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 – a heady mixture of camp, stonking pop songs and a real sense that they weren’t taking it half as seriously as their fans were. And, with anew album on the back of their jaunt round Britain’s arenas, perhaps there is more to this than simply pound signs flashing in Gary Barlow’s eyes.
To launch this album, Beautiful World, and to remind the country just who Gary, Mark, Howard and… err… the other one are, we’ve been invited down to an exclusive soiree at Abbey Road Studios, for a taped broadcast for Radio 2. Despite the gaggle of twenty-something female fans crushed against the famous railings more resembling a Blackpool hen night than a concert, the gig itself a surprisingly mature affair, the boys backed by a string section, fancy lighting and, for the slowies, strings of fairy lights.
As they take to the stage after an interminable pause, at least three of them still possessing the model looks that first took them to a nation of teenagers’ hearts, the 90% female audience throws away any inhibitions they’ve acquired over the last 10 years and SCREAMS.
It may be a mark of how ambitious the band are that they start with three (count ’em) new songs, rather than leaping onstage to a rousing chorus of Take That And Party. If it’s a gamble, it’s one which pays off handsomely. Sandwiched between two decent power ballads, new single Patience is fantastic – a mature, intelligent pop song with a catchy hook, and one that takes on a whole new life with a fullbacking band.
As the band decline to mention the titles of most new numbers, it’s a little difficult to pass judgement on the others, but if this sets the tone for the forthcoming album Take That could be on the verge of releasing their best work to date.
So it’s almost a shame that they decide to spend much of the rest of the evening plundering their back catalogue. Despite this being what the fans turned out for, much of the new material (aside from the soppy, Westlife-alike Beautiful World) is so good you’re actually left clamouring for more. A breathy Babe is dispatched early, as is the rubbish but enormously fun Everything Changes. Barlow pulls out all the emotive hand gestures for the rapturously received Back For Good, as he does on Pray and, well, petty much every other song of the evening.
If it’s one thing that lets this concert, and probably the whole reunion, 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-esque northern “banter” with the audience. He’s the one who announces the songs, 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 the cringeworthy Beatles medley they massacre by way of an encore. It’s unfair. He has much the better voice than the other three, but you get the distinct impression, as Barlow mugs to the audience at the end while the others look on, grinning sheepishly, that he’s finally seen an opportunity to drag himself out of Robbie Williams’ giant shadow, and he’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 shown that they are still the benchmark that any British pop group should aspire to, and with a promising new album out soon, this may very well be one reunion that lasts.