Robbie Williams – recently returned to the ‘boy’-band fold – has an interesting take on courage. When asked if Take That’s sixth studio album is ‘a brave record’, he replied, ‘Only if it fails.’ A wry summation of the way the music industry and public opinion work.
Progress nearly bore a different band name. For a while – presumably before Polydor’s MD had a coronary – the five decided to become The English (yep), because they thought making a different kind of record would be impossible as Take That. So, is their newie as much a departure from form as that clunking great titular signpost suggests? Well (hardline critique alert), a bit. It delivers pumping electro-pop, but as cast in a reassuringly familiar and market-proven mould by producer Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers, Scissor Sisters).
Clearly, no such highly bankable recording institution was likely to get all Major Lazer on us; rather, it’s a mix of Depeche Mode, Erasure, Goldfrapp and (on the most driving cuts) Muse. The potential singles – ‘Kidz’ (stomping beats plus gleaming, futurist drama), ‘SOS’ (frantic Euroelectro) and ‘Happy Now’ (swooshy synths and hi-NRG beats) – leap out with all the surprising dynamism of Superman from a phone box. We like.
We don’t like: ‘Wait’ (Robbie’s mix of doof-doof techno and piano balladry with rubbish ‘rhyming’ – Eskimo/swallow/cannibal); the odd, mid-way plateau that is ‘Pretty Things’; Mark’s mawkish apology to wifey (‘What Do You Want from Me?’) and Howard singing at all. There are 10 tracks, four of them verging on the great. Getting hipper with age, rather than more hidebound, it seems. And you can’t say that of many British institutions.