46:26 min • Polydor • November 28th, 2008
In 2006 Take That rose like a phoenix from the ashes in a move that, at the time, seemed ill advised to many. However, the band saw it as the consummate hour for such a rebirth, particularly as Robbie Williams’ career was flat-lining rather sensationally. If the boys ever had a chance to tempt him back into the fold it was then.
When Robbie declined the offer to reunite one of the most popular boybands of all time, red flags went up in the hearts and minds of the nation. We braced ourselves for the worst. Of course, what transpired was the come back to end all come backs. It’s hard to imagine any act ever repeating the spectacular success of this reinvention. In fact, many tried to imitate the winning formula the pop alchemists had conjured up: New Kids on the Block, Boyzone, The Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls (though in truth that was a completely shameless cash-in scam which was bordering on fraudulent).
Beautiful World was pitched perfectly. Pop had grown-up, and Take That were the grand masters. So what of the ‘second’ album from the reborn maestros?
Having created the alchemic winning formula once, they were somewhat inevitably expected to reproduce it. The expectations for this album were higher than any other that came before it, and for the most part it lives up to the weight of those inflated demands.
The album opener ‘The Garden’ makes it clear where the boys are going with The Circus. A gentle piano intro invites you into the song, slowly opening up with airy strings which are replaced by the rousing marching drums of the middle eight. As the anthemic call to arms, “we can play our part, if we only start believing” rings out, you can’t help feeling that they have done it again (in spite of the Cold Play affectations).
The album continues with the big strings and sombre lyrics in the second track (and first single) ‘Greatest Day’, and just as you are slipping into an aural bath of warm sounds and rich strings comes the cold shower tempo change of ‘Hello’. And this is indicative of the album peppered with songs that go from treacle-like melodies & rhythms through to frenetic and often quirky numbers. Some listeners may find this disconcerting.
The descending chords and cadences on songs like ‘You’, the melancholic ‘How Did It Come To This?’, the beautiful eponymous ‘The Circus’ and the heartfelt ‘What is Love?’ sit more comfortably with the soaring anthems of ‘Hold Up A Light’, ‘Here’ & ‘Said It All’ than the fun tracks ‘Hello’, and ‘Up All Night’, which with their Beatles flavour (and more than a dash of ELO) feel like they are on a sabbatical from a Scissor Sisters album.
From the sublime to the ridiculous is an oft used phrase and it couldn’t be more fitting when considering an album which shoulders a track like ‘Here’ with the Barry Manilow-esque novelty ‘She Said’.
It will only be with familiarity and time that this album will sound like a coherent entity, but since the songs are so strong and enjoyable I suspect it will be worth the wait. As the boys once said, “have a little… patience”.