An ebullient, daring album which sounds more like a fresh start than a final destination.
Jaime Gill 2010-11-08
Enough has been written elsewhere about Take That's history (a humdrum tale of boys meet boys, exploitation and idolisation, dreams fulfilled and crushed, ruined friendships, success as vengeance, glorious pop and the furies of fame), so let's skip straight to the new chapter. If the title of Progress suggests the band's new sound will be a merging and evolving of Take That Mk.II and recent Robbie Williams fare, the reality is startlingly different. Progress is something entirely new – Take That Mk.III – and the strangest, most ambitious and most exciting record its creators have ever been involved in.
Taking in bombastic stadium rock, sleazy funk, up-tempo RnB, operatic techno, Bowie-esque whimsy and demented disco, Progress is most definitely not the sound of two wildly popular acts playing it safe and raking the millions in. Even the relatively conventional comeback single, The Flood, is unexpected: with its huge, widescreen production, booming drum rolls and faux-profound lyrics, it instantly makes the next U2 album redundant.
The Flood's enjoyable hokum is immediately bettered by SOS, a savage-of-bass, furiously paced disco romp with Mark Owen on gleeful lead vocals and Williams providing adrenaline-flecked back-ups. The latter sounds like he’s having a ball throughout, particularly on another Owen/Williams duet, Kidz, which exhilaratingly combines martial beats, glam guitars, Atari techno and the kind of absurd dystopian pomp ("Daggers of science evolving into violence / We're not sure where the fallout blows") usually found on Muse albums. On the space-funk of Underground Machine – the closest thing to a Williams’ solo track – he sounds more ruttingly, struttingly confident than he has in years.
Elsewhere, Progress is slightly more conventional. Pretty Things sees Williams' falsetto and Gary Barlow's hushed croon sonically merged into something uncannily like David Bowie, while its chiming keyboards, gorgeous harmonies and fluttering melodies make it an obvious single. Only one song falls flat on its face: even super-producer Stuart Price can't salvage much from Owen’s wobbly vocals and watery sentimentality on What Do You Want From Me.
What will happen next is predictable, for once: monster hit singles, eye-watering sales and a tour that will keep St John's Ambulances busier than they’ve been in years. After that? With this collection of erratic egos, who knows; but the ebullient, daring Progress sounds more like a fresh start than a final destination.