Gary Barlow wakes. He squints at the new day through stubbled eyelids and drinks the pint of mead his manservant has left by the bed with the post. Throwing aside letters from his accountant and the Inland Revenue, Gary sees it. An advance copy of III, Take That’s new album. Good news at last, he thinks, and slides it into Robbie Williams’ mouth which, at the request of Mrs Williams, he has had converted into an old skool CD player.
And to his relief it’s good. Even after the departure of Jason Orange, the band’s hatpin, even after Robbie’s failure to return (“Just off to sing to the missus,” he said, and never returned), and even after the failure of the band’s plan to end war by refusing to fund the Armed Forces with their tax money (“Yes, hospitals will close,” was how Gary had pitched it to his bandmates, “Yes, schools and libraries will be starved of funds. But there will be NO MORE BOMBS.”), Take That are back.
From the trio-vocalled opener These Days to the Gary Goldfrapp stomp of I Like It, III is a decent pop collection, sounding a bit like old Take That and a bit like other bands who’d been going for a while. He can see the three of them, walking down a beach in black and white to almost all the songs. Maybe not the drab Freeze, but certainly Get Ready For It, which could almost be Arcade Fire doing a John Lewis advert (Gary makes a note on Robbie’s forehead to call John Lewis. Or Arcade Fire).
As he polishes off his mead and calls for his beard, Gary reflects on his past. How once he’d wanted to be the new George Michael and how for a while he had been, only at the less successful end of George’s career. How Take That had come back, mean and sexy (“M and S”, Jason had said, as if by accident), the world’s first heritage boy band, like the Rolling Stones for Just Seventeen readers. How they’d achieved respect and released genuinely good singles. And how even their refusal to pay millions of pounds in tax, money which would have gone to save lives and fund public services, hadn’t harmed their careers. And why would it? Even the Arctic Monkeys had got away with it, and they were supposed to be cool.
Delicate piano fills the room. It’s Flaws, Gary’s solo ballad. “I have so many, so many flaws,” he hears himself singing in a voice that’s part soul, part club singer. The album ends with a whirr just as the doorbell rings. A car has come to take Gary into the world, the beautiful world. Gary puts the CD in its case, to show it to Mark and the other one. They’ll be pleased, and with good reason. With songs like these (particularly second single Let In The Sun, a moody chugger with an anthemic chorus), with outside songwriters like Jamie Norton and Ben Mark for when the muse fails him, and up to date modern producers like Greg Kurstin, there’s no reason why Take That couldn’t go on forever. One day, true, III might become II, and even I. But even that might not be too taxing.