Take That’s long and illustrious career has seen them rack up; an impressive, seven number one albums. Sadly, Wonderland is unlikely to replicate the success this iconic band is accustomed to. Following on from the departure of Jason Orange, the remaining trio of Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen are trying their hardest, but fall more than a little short.
Subtle cultural appropriation in pop is no new thing, but that doesn’t make it anymore acceptable, musicians need to be held accountable, and so the intro of Wonderland is one that doesn’t sit comfortably. The opening minute and a half is a drawn out sequence, that has no real place on a Take That record. There is no denying Gary Barlow’s skill as a songwriter, he has an ability to take lacklustre lines such as “music makes me feel good” and turn them into inescapable ear-worms. Lead single Giants sees Take That return to their roots as world conquering popstars. The choruses swell with joy and feeling, and are impossible not to enjoy.
After a shaky first track, Take That have found their groove by the time New Day kicks in. There’s no shame in not being innovative or cutting edge, in fact Take That benefit from welcome drops of nostalgia. New Day is an upbeat tune destined to soundtrack wedding dances and proposals the world over, exactly why scores of fans still love them some 20 plus years after their formation. Lucky Stars is an absolute wildcard, that blasts Take That forward in time and is their most current feeling track. The guitars lines ooze and scream Nile Rodgers, who somewhere might be quaking in his glittery suit.
For a track called Hope, this is less an ode to optimism than it’s title hints at. In another life, it could have soundtracked the pivotal moment in a teen romance film but is not much cop at anything else. The contrast between Hope and River is harsh and gives the record a more disjointed perspective, when there are clear links between different songs were they ordered differently. It’s a minor thing that would have come to Take That’s aid when taking in the sound of the album overall.
The Last Poet is out and out classic Take That. The harmonies are soothingly uplifting, propelling the boys back up to the pedestal many fans have them on. It’s another one that will bring joy to many happy couples, but also one that can bring as much positive energy to those less fortunate. As the album progresses further, Gary Barlow relinquishes some control to let Mark Owen take centre stage. It’s no Shine; the last track Mark truly owned, but it’s a mature effort that shows the band as serious musicians and not just comeback kings.
Take That and Sigma are an unlikely pairing that many would raise an eyebrow at. But it works! It works so gloriously well and injects so much life into their collective spirits. Cry is an out and out banger, and will have even the oldest of Take That fans dancing and singing the house down. Gary Barlow’s voice works significantly well when backed by Sigma’s signature beats and strings, the most surprising of surprises indeed.
Wonderland is far from the most cohesive album in existence, but what it lacks in togetherness it makes up for in enthusiasm. Take That are still very in love with their craft, and just want to keep having fun as long as fans will continue to support them.