[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]
YOU REALLY CAN'T blame Take That for giving it another go. They saw their various solo careers collapse on the launchpad, as that of their erstwhile bandmate Robbie Williams shot off into the stratosphere with quite startling velocity. Their return without him reminds us that he wasn't exactly crucial to the only tolerable non-US boyband of its era.
It also reminds us what a curious spark the original Take That possessed - mainly because it seems to have vanished. In the stifling, sterile genre they inadvertently created, Take That seemed fun, alive, and more than a tad classy. On Beautiful World (Polydor **), only the class remains - and that fitfully.
There's no shame in a pop band cottoning on to the styles of the moment - mostly, the bland sorta kinda guitarish pop-rock balladeering that is today's MOR, although there's a touch of Coldplay here and a snip of Scissor Sisters there. But accomplished though they are, there's something all too functional about these songs, as if they were written to accompany a textbook. The recruitment of American light-entertainment specialist John Shanks as producer suggests this is no accident. It's a pity that Take That should have set out to become what their detractors wrongly accused them of being first time around: that is, bland and verging on the facile.
Faithless were one of the few acts to cross over from the dance scene into long-term pop success, and they did so without compromise - in as much as they had that big, sleek, shimmering, comfortable sound right from the off. They seem to have got into a pattern of coming up trumps with every other album. And just as the last one, No Roots, was a belter, so To All New Arrivals (Columbia **) is a bit of a let-down. The Faithless sheen remains intact, but a New Age triteness lies beneath it, and the attempted political commentary has none of the urgency and gravity with which they carried it off last time around.
Christmas albums tend towards intolerable faux-cheer; but the wintry melancholy which typifies Aimee Mann’s music makes One More Drifter In The Snow (V2 ***) an exception. Overlook the standards, which are unremarkably nice, and the handful of originals feel as lonely and eerie as the season itself so often can be.
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