Take That and Britney Spears are pitching similarly titled albums at a point in their careers when they both hope the little girls still understand; yep, the past masters of teen pop are bringing circus back.
No doubt La Spears, or rather her team of minders and writers, intends a circus theme to seem archly post-modern and knowing while still being, like, so hot. Take That’s The Circus, though – their second release since reforming – is a much more serious position statement, constantly suggesting that the boy to man band are back for good rather than evil. They want their audience to trust them and follow them precisely because they do still understand.
Gary Barlow has always been the driving force in Take That, the one least comfortable in a leather jockstrap but the songwriter around whom the others harmonise and gyrate. Tellingly, both photos included with the disc show him scowling, possibly worrying that his bum looks big (actually, it looks great. Hi Robbie!), or perhaps wondering whether he can pinch someone else’s album title. Hmm, Listen Without Prejudice?
Barlow’s songwriting has, in fact, long been compared to George Michael and, while Take That V2 are all about shared writing credits and moody band of brothers imagery, he still has something to prove. The title track is an epic, Imagine-referencing, Grey’s Anatomy-ready ballad, brilliantly good at what it does and tinged with what sounds like genuine regret. As it’s effectively Barlow and a piano, you sense he’s baffled that he had to get back with his old band/brand to be heard. Similarly, Greatest Day is Barlow soaring above every good idea Coldplay ever stole in a clever nod to the very sound a chunk of his 90’s fan base have probably grown into. The fact it’s not on year-end best of lists speaks to a bias in our reigning tastemakers completely at odds with its unbridled positivity.
In the spirit of the collective, the still adorable Mark Owen is given his cheeky chappy head on a couple of tracks that strain for an Oasis/Beatles vibe but end up more Monkees cute and forgettable. As ever, you’d be hard pressed to say what the other guys do besides smoldering knowingly.
Take That have always seemed very English, often cheesily so, and their influences remain impressively local and R&B-free. Unfortunately, their sound is polished to an inoffensive sheen that renders it all very civilised but instantly forgettable. Still, two killer would-be radio singles could sell a lot of records, and Mum Rock is as lucrative a frontier as teen girls and the gays. Take that, haters!
Take That – The Circus is out now through Universal Music.