When Take That disbanded in 1996, they left many young girls in floods of tears. They had arguably been the most popular band in Britain during the early ’90s, and many of their fans had never known what it was like to have their favorite band split and move on. Two surprises then occurred, first when Gary Barlow, the main singer and songwriter for the band, failed to set the charts alight with his solo projects. Despite hitting number one with two singles (“Forever Love” and “Love Won’t Wait”) and the accompanying album Open Road, Barlow‘s solo career was seen as a disappointment and he quickly faded from the affections of young girls who either grew up or turned their attention to Boyzone or Westlife. The second surprise occurred when the cheekiest former member of the band, Robbie Williams, whom many had seen as precipitating the breakup in the first place, went on to become one of the biggest solo stars of the late ’90s and early 2000s with eight number one albums. In fact, he was so big that when the other four invited him to rejoin them for a reunion world tour, he said no, intending to remain solo and promote his recently released album, Rudebox.
So Take That re-formed, went on the road without Williams, and recorded a new album without him, too. Doomed to failure? Not a bit, for the album Beautiful World was filled with great new contemporary songs, virtually all written by the bandmembers, who had grown up and matured in the intervening years. There was a sense of professionalism surrounding the whole project (produced by John Shanks) and imbuing every song, whether a ballad like “I’d Wait for Life” or “What You Believe In” (on which Mark Owen took vocal lead), or an uptempo track like “Reach Out” or “Shine,” the latter of which was a masterpiece of 21st century pop. The bandmembers shared responsibilities for singing on the album, and they were obviously enjoying every minute of the comeback, although Barlow was still very much in charge, taking lead vocal duties on six of the tracks. The lead single was “Patience,” a classic pop song and midtempo ballad with a killer hook down the scales for a chorus, and the second single, “Shine,” was completely different, sort of a cross between Queen at their most camp and the Scissor Sisters. The final track, “Wooden Boat,” was another totally different song, sung by Jason Orange to an acoustic background, and one minute after it had finished, another Gary Barlow power ballad, “Butterfly,” faded in as a bonus track on some editions of the album. Robbie Williams was slated for his solo offering Rudebox, but his former bandmates celebrated one of the greatest comebacks of all time, hitting number one throughout December and even returning to the top in the spring of 2007 when the second single, “Shine,” kicked in and hit the Top Five for several more weeks, over a year after the album had been released. So is there hope for any band attempting a comeback after ten years? If the band’s album is this good, you bet there is.