Take That Progress album review
- Nov 02, 2010
Virgin Music is most chuffed to be among the first to be able to have a long lovely luxurious listen to Take That's new album, Progress - you know, the one where Gary Barlow takes back Robbie Williams and then they all get naked on the cover. Just like the old days eh? Although there's less jelly being mopped in to crevices now.
Don't let the positive sounding title and sunshiney bright cover lull you in to a false sense of pop gaiety though, Progress is a deceptively dark offering from the usually quite cheerful man band. Okay, we don't mean dark as in emo wrist slashingly dark, just dark compared to Barry Manilow covers and Lulu duets.
The main thought that Progress leaves you to ponder is - where's Gary? It's pretty much a full on Robbie-fest. So all hardy Take That fans better be prepared to welcome everyone's favourite spotlight hogger back to nestle in their collective bosom.
Let's go track by track:
1) The Flood. Yeah yeah you already know this one. But think therefore that you know the album? Think again clever clogs. You can see why they released this single first. It's cosy familiar territory - all suitably epic with swathes of sweeping violins and a big rousing chorus with pretty harmonies... just with Robbie on lead vocals - ooo the novelty. But in context of the rest of Progress you realise that thematically, the metaphor of The Flood offers a taster of how our cardigan-wearing heroes have come over all apocalyptic on our asses. After this track, Progress progresses down a very different path to Beautiful World and The Circus. Blimey - didn't see this one coming...
2) SOS. This is as near as Take That should ever get to The Clash's London Calling. Singing of storms breaking and satellites failing, poor wee Mark Owen cries out to have his soul saved amid the foreboding morse code. And if this isn't enough to shatter our previously safe and comfy preconceptions of what a night in with a Take That LP should offer, Robbie Williams interjects with a chorus call 'like a bullet to the head'. Steady on - what would Marks & Spencer say? This track is where producer du jour, Stuart Price, really stamps his presence and it's all techno, techno, techno beats and bleeps a la Confessions era Madonna. You half expect the video to feature Take That rollerskating around in pink leotards.
3) Wait. More Robbie centre stage in this stripped down, melancholy electro offering that is part Lady Gaga, part Pet Shop Boys. This could have been off of Robbie's last solo effort - albeit with the safety net of a familiar feeling traditional Take That chorus.
4) Kidz. The military look is in right now so this one has us all marching and chanting in unison to the ‘la la la’s. Kidz has a touch of Richard X style Girls Aloud and is only let down by some distinctly A-level sounding anti-establishment political poetry (‘Not sure where the fall out blows… there’ll be trouble when the kids come out…’) or maybe it’s meant to be in keeping with the 80s feel? A token bit of Cold War paranoia adds to the retro military cool after all.
5) Pretty Things. Just when we were getting used to this hip vibe it’s suddenly back to The Circus and it’s all nursery rhyme style harpsichord and violins. Oh and listen – Robbie’s finally let Gary chirp in! Hurrah! Shame it’s on the first track really failing to prick our ears up. Perhaps this is an indication that this new Price-flavoured Take That really is a better idea than retreading old ground…
6) Happy Now. And it’s back to the dark paranoia with Gary belatedly claiming lead vocals back. Again, don’t be fooled by the title – this is the new serious Gary who’s sounding very world weary and cynical (‘Give me half as much but twice as fast – today…’). While this could easily have been traditional Take That fare, Stuart Price touches it up with a trendy electro fringe…
7) Underground Machine. Whoa - step aside Gary, don’t get too settled… Robbie’s back and sneaking us on to some David Lynch film noir soundtrack where repetitive robotic rhythms are overlaid with industrial sound effects (‘The lighting’s cheap and the room is cold…’) This old school dystopia is only lightened by some irrepressible Robbie theatrics. Singing about himself again: ‘You might be good looking but you can’t sleep with yourself tonight. What a beast, what a man…’
8) What Do You Want From Me? A few years ago, a repenting Mark Owen would have been singing ‘Baby, please forgive me – I love you so very much… ooo yeah’ (Okay maybe a bit better than that - we’re no lyricists) but this new bullshit-free Mark now sings: ‘I still want to have sex with you’ and as excuses go – ‘We’re not wise at all, it’s getting harder to recover’ is the best he’s going to offer. Fair enough. Mark Owen has grown some balls. Brilliant.
9) Affirmation. Surely now an uncomplicated, upbeat little ditty that rings true to its title? Nah don’t be silly… more melancholy. Our boys are still reeling in end-of-the-world turmoil (‘I can feel the pressure on our minds – on the whole universe… we’re just incomplete…’) Howard finally gets a crack of the whip but you can’t help feeling that Gary’s stronger vocals would have fulfilled the promise here and enabled this song to burst through to the out and out glorious euphoria that’s been tentatively threatening the whole album. But Stuart Price persuades the lads to keep their cool and err on the side of restraint (a new lesson for Robbie we reckon).
10) Eight Letters. Gary Barlow does Ultravox’s Vienna. Genius. It might even feel a bit – dare we say – ABBA? Is this a bit of the old Take That coming back? Tempered with a bit of reflective melancholy of course… before we all get too carried away.
11) Flower Bed. So they still let Jason have a go, that's nice – albeit on the hidden track. The Vocoder voice effects seal that 80s futurism feel and it’s all very ethereal and Goldfrapp. A lovely light fresh finish to an unexpected but great album. Just as touching and fitting an ending as Jason's little Wooden Boat was.
It might not be the Take That we’re used to but it’s a Take That we could get used to. Maybe even dance a bit to? This direction would never have worked without Robbie on board to give it the confidence needed to pull this off. So it’s away with the M&S cardies and on with the day-glo vests… come back Gary – don’t be shy, you can pull that look off.
Read our blog on why Take That ticket fans broke the internet last week...