Take That

Progress

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This is the true Take That comeback, the one where Robbie Williams returns to the fold for the first time since 1995. When he split at the height of Brit-pop, conventional wisdom suggested that Gary Barlow would wind up as the runaway solo star from the British boy band, but things didn’t turn out that way. Robbie wound up as a superstar, the rest of the band reuniting without him in 2006, then admirably settling into an unthreatening adult contemporary groove on 2008’s Circus. Robbie’s return throws all that complacency out the window, with the band opting to follow the cool club and cocktail inflections of his recent work. It’s the right move, of course -- Take That was stuck in the middle of the road, and no matter how pleasant that path was, it was bound to provide diminishing returns commercially -- but the surprise is how effective the Williams-ization of Take That is on Progress. The rest of the band gamely follows his lead, meshing vocally as they used to, but the emphasis is not on harmonies, it’s on groove and texture, ballads taking a backseat to clever rips on Gorillaz or synthesized glam stomps. Things start to slow down toward the end of Progress, when Mark Owen, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, and Barlow get their own track to write -- each revert to type, Barlow stultifyingly so on the sticky “Eight Letters” -- but for seven tracks, Progress is the hippest and best music Take That has ever made.

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