Review Summary: In Wonderland, patience is served in small amounts.
When I think back to my adolescent years, it would be a lie if I said Take That didn’t hold a place in my upbringing. Sure, looking back, the band’s hits were as equally dumb as any other boy band at the time, but there was something about them that drew you into their music. After Robbie’s departure from the band, to cut a piece of pop-stardom out for himself and set new bars for how pop music should be made, it effectively left Take That dead in the water. For the better part of a decade Robbie dominated the pop world with consecutive hit albums, however, by the mid 00s he was slowing down, becoming creatively dry and turning into yesterday’s news. It’s almost as if Gary Barlow and co. saw a perfect opportunity coming and did what no one was expecting: a Take That comeback. And in 2006 that’s exactly what happened, not only taking me back by how they’d successfully revived a boy band, but how they were actually good. It was a mature Take That without Robbie, showcasing a group of men who’d grown into their own skins and developed as musicians. Beautiful World
is a grand statement that shows great song-writing and proved Gary and co. could steer their own ship without Robbie. And while The Circus
lacks the same impact its former offered, it was a decent follow-up to a promising future.
By the late 00’s Robbie’s creative output was shambles and leaving the singer a mere shadow of his former glory days, so it came as a bitter disappointment for me that Robbie rejoined the band in 2010, which, obviously, had a predominant affect on the music at hand; Progress
lacked the same appeal the two albums previous had offered, and was a key indicator the group were on a decline. However, I can’t put the whole blame on Williams for why Take That’s output has declined in recent years, because as quickly as he came into the band, he exited just as swiftly. Ultimately the band has had a couple of turbulent moments post The Circus
, firstly for rehiring Robbie -- which saw him leave after just one album -- and the second for Jason Orange’s departure; both of which have had massive repercussions on the creation of both III
in one way or another: cheap hooks, less creative thought and more derivative ideas.
So it begs to question, in 2017, what can Take That offer music lovers? Continuing on from the relatively poor III
, what can Barlow, Owen and Donald deliver to fans that won’t sink them into an even bigger hole? Well, for all the problems Wonderland
has, the band still have a tremendous power on delivering catchy pop songs -- which is what the consensus want from a band of this sort anyway. So in that sense, this album is a complete success, and I’m inclined to agree to a certain extent. For me, this album is constantly tugging at two emotions: joy and irritation. The joy that comes from this album is found more from the music than the vocals, and it lets me have fun with what these guys have cooked up; the likes of “Lucky Stars” and the album’s title-track, “Wonderland”, offer up loads of really interesting instrumental ideas. There’s loads of synth textures that absorb and engage the listener, whilst the guys make sure they’re bringing their A-game in terms of melody. There’s a surprising amount of things going on in compositions, and you can pick out loads of layers found within any one song. The 80s pulse of “Wonderland” and reverb saturation has a similar aesthetic to David Bowie’s “Lets Dance” and is a definite highlight for the album, while “Superstar” hears Owen’s delivering a really great vocal performance, matched by some really energetic music backing him up. The string section and acoustic guitar of “Hope” brings a really nice sadness to the album, met with a decent hook from Barlow’s performance and creates one of this LP’s highest moments.
However, these three guys are their own worst enemies and for every good track they perform, there is two bad ones lurking behind them. The most notable problem with this record is its length, which weighs in at an average 11 tracks -- 15 if you’re listening to the even more banal deluxe version. But, even at 11 tracks, this thing feels bloated and a slog to sit through; after track 5 fatigue begins to set in, which isn’t a very good sign when a couple of those 5 tracks aren’t great to begin with. But the album limps on; you’ll occasionally come across a decent moment here and there with the, once again, Bowie-esque album closer of ”It’s All For You”, but it quickly looses its focus as it goes on. In fact, with the exception of “Hope” the last half of the album falls apart terribly; where the first half offered a decent array of instrumental work, or catchy hooks, the second half lacks an abundance of both. “Every Revolution”, “Last Poet” and “River” suffer from some horrendous lyrics and flat song-writing, which leaves you aching to get this album over with. If it wasn’t for “Hope” and the half-decent Bowie rip-off of “It’s All For You”, the second half of the album would be a complete write-off. But if we’re to focus on lyrics for Wonderland
anyway, it’s probably the most consistent thing here, in that they are largely terrible: “Wonderland”, “And the Band Plays”, “Giants” and “River” -- to name but a few of the biggest culprits -- are quite simply awful when you focus on what they’re saying. When Owen’s says stupid sh*t like “Let me be a river, won’t you carry me?”
, or Barlow for being the worst member on here for countless highlights where you cringe and think (did he just say that?): I’ll list just one of Barlow’s award-winning lyrical moments, found on “And the Band Plays”, which opens the track with “If life was simple everyday like Sunday Afternoon”
. I could go on and on with the terrible lyrics contained within Wonderland
, but I don’t have all day.
Suffice it to say, the lyrics hurt this record tremendously. Not so much in the first half of the album, because the music and melodies hold up rather well, and it’s easy to overlook what they’re saying for the most part. But when it comes to the second half of the record where music takes a back seat on things, and you have no option but to listen to what these guys are saying, it just creates a world of pain. Don’t get me wrong, there is some fun to be had on here, the 80s electronic vibes they pump out from time to time is nice, and the first handful of songs hold a surprising amount of depth, but Take That can’t maintain the level of quality for long and for that I suggest avoiding the deluxe version of this like the plague, whilst caution is to be had when hovering over the play button to listen to the standard track-list. A couple of decent moments to be had, but they’ve fallen pretty hard from their excellent comeback a decade ago.
SPECIAL EDITION: 4 BONUS TRACKS CONTAINED ON THE DELUXE EDITION.