Pop classic. Oddity. 


I go back and forth between these two terms when I think about the new, improved, reformed, and reformatted Take That. The truth is somewhere in between. 


It was exciting to see Robbie Williams rejoin the band, and much anticipation was given to the release of this album. Commercially, it's a huge success, having become the second fastest-selling album in UK history. After the rise of the Robbie-less Take That in recent years, and the slow dripping away of Robbie's musical talents (and sales), it was a natural occurrence for this to happen. 


First, we got the "Blackbird"-quoting single "Shame" from Robbie and Gary Barlow, which managed to summarize both the animosity and inevitability of the return of the full Take That. That single is not included on the album, and that was probably the right thing to do. It was fun, but it doesn't quite fit in with the new direction that the band has taken. 


It's not that they've completely washed away the sound that produced "Patience" and "Greatest Day", though. "Eight Letters" is a Gary Barlow song that sounds like it could have been written as a postscript to "The Circus", which was the last Take That record. 


For the most part, though, Take That have managed to jump on and refine the synth-based pop that's prevalent now, and - again for the most part - they've succeeded admirably, if occasionally oddly. 


Take the first single, "The Flood". This is so obviously a Robbie Williams song; the lyrics are obtuse, the arrangement is flowery, and of course Robbie takes the lead vocal. The song climbed to number 2 on the British charts, outdone by upstarts JLS. It was hard to know what to make of the whole thing. 


So the album comes as a bit of a surprise. There are harder arrangements here than Take That have ever done ("SOS", "Kidz"), but that Robbie is no stranger to. Both of these songs are mostly just odd, though. "SOS", in particular, has a desperate edge to it that push it into the realm of the strange. 


But there's also some very nice, modern stuff on the album. "Wait" is a gorgeous ballad, and it's of a piece with "Happy Now", which is a bit neurotic but very up-to-date and effective. Both songs remind me of the Gorillaz when Damon Albarn is in his calmer mode. I'm going to hazard the opinion that the cartoon band was an influence on the new Take That. 


Many reviews have mentioned that the album is a bit Robbie-centric, but there seems to be a fair amount of equity among the songwriting and vocals. Only Jason Orange gets the short stick, relegated to a heavily-filtered vocal on the bonus track "Flowerbed". Sure, there's a lot of Robbie, but there's also a lot of the others as well. 


The album plays well as one piece, too, as some thought went into the sequencing and segues between tracks. 


All in all, this may turn out to be the best thing that Take That AND Robbie Williams have done. If you can take the occasionally jarring arrangements, and balance it with the moments of pop bliss, then you'll love this. Of course, you've probably already bought it, haven't you?


I give "Progress" a 7 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.
 


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