Progress is the third album from the newly reformed Take That, and the first one to feature Robbie Williams as part of the band. Naturally, Robbie was going to bring something into the group’s sound – any ‘new’ member would, but it seems as though Robbie’s infatuation with electro pop, that began with his 2006 album Rudebox, has not gone away. The inclusion of producer Stuart Price is a strange one, he has worked with Scissor Sisters, Brandon Flowers and on Keane’s most recent album, this should be enough for us to know that this is not necessarily the right person to be involved with a Take That album.
Progress starts off well enough with lead single, The Flood. If there is one band that knows how to make a radio friendly single, it is Take That. The Flood showcases what the band are best at – layered harmonies and catchy, arms-in-the-air choruses. The Flood is classic Take That; Robbie and Gary’s voices sound great together. Sadly, Progress is almost all downhill from here.
With their last album – The Circus – Take That went a little too far down the road of easy listening. Now that Robbie is back, it seems that they have decided what the new album needs is a bangin’ choon or seven. Filling that space are… well, almost every track on the album. SOS, Wait, Underground Machine and Happy Now are a little too electro-poppy to be Take That. That said, Wait is bound to get the crowd jumping – literally – at the sold out tour next year, the others are a little muddled and directionless.
Elsewhere on the album, Pretty Things sounds like the music from a child’s jewellery box – pretty and tinkly, but ultimately uneventful, What Do You Want From Me? is track is very obviously Mark Owen’s reaction to his marriage troubles. The sentiment is sweet – although there is a strange lyric; ‘I still want to have sex with you’. None too subtle Mark! As for Affirmation – Howard seems to be struggling a little with the high notes, which detracts from the dodgy backing beat.
Thankfully, there are two songs on Progress that redeem the album – Kidz and Eight Letters. The ‘la la la’ at the start of Kidz is oddly reminiscent of Britney’s Womaniser, but the song is fun and bouncy, and is definitely going to be a single. I can see the video now… Mark leading a parade of stompy dancers. Eight Letters is the only other track on the album that actually sounds like a Take That song. Sadly, it is performed on synth, not piano, and there is a little riff that sounds like it was lifted from Gary Numan’s Cars.
Overall, Progess is a disappointing effort from Take That. All through the album I found myself wondering where the Take That songs were. Of course a group’s sound evolves and changes over time, but this electronic pop realm that Take That have found themselves in is not right for them. Maybe this change is what the name of the album was warning us about? Progress and the new direction it heralds for Take That may win the group some new fans, but I have been an avid fan since 1992 (Yes, Could it be Magic? snared my 12 year old self) and this is not the Take That I know and love. I have no intention of selling my tickets for Croke Park next year, but sadly, this is a 2.5 star album. OK, maybe 3 stars – Kidz is awesome.