Take That are back with their first new studio album in more than six years.
This period is being referred to within the band’s team as “TT 3.0”. The school of thought goes that the ’90s were phase one and the 2006 comeback up until the 2019 Greatest Hits tour phase two. New album This Life heralds the dawn of phase three.
Ninth studio album This Life, released on November 24, is tipped to have blockbuster sales. It follows 2018’s hits reworkings set Odyssey, which topped 100,000 week one sales to debut at No.1. Ahead of the release of This Life, they play Radio 2 In Concert at 7pm tonight (November 23).
Following lead single Windows, the album title track, This Life, is currently No.2 on the UK radio airplay chart.
Take That are on a new label, having moved within Universal from Polydor to EMI. Other new partners include UTA, who are working with the band on global touring opportunities, alongside existing relationships with SJM and manager Chris Dempsey at YMU.
“We’ve not had a lot of new labels, probably twice,” said Gary Barlow, enthusiastic at the prospect of mixing things up. “We came back in 2006, we had Polydor, that was a new label and to have a new label again has been an exciting process.”
The label relocation is entirely in keeping with the band’s approach on This Life, one where a group who have sold over 45 million albums worldwide and have no less than four albums with more than two million UK sales are keen to venture outside their comfort zone. Recently, for example, they did Later With… Jools Holland for the first time.
“Jools was like, ‘How the hell is this your first performance on here?!’” Barlow laughs. “It feels like we’re already starting to do new things we hadn’t even thought of doing in the past.”
It’s also the first collaboration with Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb, which has resulted in an Americana-tinged sound. The band recorded in the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville with the producer, who is known for his recordings with Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile and Sturgill Simpson.
“The producer was an important factor on this record,” Mark Owen told Music Week. “We’ve worked with some of the best – John Shanks, Stuart Price, Mark Ralph – but I think for us on a new label, making a new record after all this time, it was quite important for us to feel like we were going to have a new sound and try to look for something new. We had a new A&R called Thomas Haimovici and he brought in a few names, and Dave was one of the names on his list.”
For this album, Take That headed off in different directions and worked on their compositions individually before coming back together to see what they had.
“Gary and Mark are always writing anyway because they’ve done solo stuff as well, whereas I haven’t,” Howard Donald told Music Week. “I thought, ‘I’ve gotta come up with something great,’ so I went off and did co-writes with people I felt comfortable with. We brought our stuff to the table, which was a very nerve-racking thing for me, where I’ve got to try and be prepared for criticism and I’m not very good at [taking] it. But luckily, I brought the right songs in. I always feel like the weakest writer out of the three of us.”
“I think it allowed you the time and space to get across what you wanted,” said Mark Owen. “Sometimes when we’re all together, naturally everybody is talking over each other.”
“It’s very tricky to be in the room with three people and try to get everyone in one song,” added Gary Barlow. “By saying he’s the weakest, Howard is touching on confidence.”
During the Music Week interview, Barlow turned to face Donald before continuing: “If I was going to say anything about this record being different, it’s that this is the best version of you I’ve ever seen. You brought the best songs I’ve ever heard you write.”
With sessions at Cobb’s home studio in Savannah and finishing in New York, Barlow says it’s the hardest they’ve ever worked on their vocals.
“We’ve really gone to town,” he said. “We didn’t want music, backing vocals and then the lead vocalist; we wanted us on top of it all.”
That was prompted by Windows reminding him that above all else, Take That are “a vocal harmony group”.
“That’s what we are,” he told Music Week. “We’re not a band where it’s bass, drums, guitar. That’s what we bring to our records. When we’d finished Windows, it’s like the Eagles or those groups from the late ’70s where it was all about vocal harmony. That’s what we always used to do, sitting in hotel rooms all those years ago. That was a really good pointer for the rest of the record.”
Barlow also praised Take That’s loyal fans – “Thatters” – for their continuing support.
“Being a big, long successful act like us, it’s like having a bit of a target on your back,” he said. “We’ve got an amazing audience who stick with us and a lot of people see it and want to bring it down.”
Indeed, Barlow loves having the interaction with fans that social media brings.
“If there was one thing we longed for in the ’90s, it was a connection to our audience beyond talking to a journalist or going through a newspaper or going through a TV show,” he explained. “That was the only way of getting to our audience, and now they’re in our hands.”
Gary Barlow’s mantra since Take That reformed has been to enjoy every second. His biggest regret in the group is that he never got to savour success the first time round because he spent the whole time worrying, and he was determined to make sure he didn’t repeat the mistake.
“There’s not so much to worry about nowadays,” said Barlow. “But I really try to enjoy it all for what it is. It’s meant to be fun. We’re in the entertainment industry.”
“You can look back now as an adult and as a family man and wish that we’d spoken to each other a lot more,” added Donald. “The ’90s went so fast, no commitments to families, no kids, it was all about Take That so we didn’t really speak to each other.”
Barlow sometimes feels as if Take That aren’t in the music industry but in some parallel realm of their own.
“We’re in our own world,” he suggested. “It just exists alongside the industry. I’m far more interested in what our audiences are saying, I like to know they are happy.”
According to Gary Barlow, Take That are keen to continue doing things they’ve never done before on this campaign. And he’s already looking ahead…
“We’re in a good place at the moment, really good,” said Barlow. “I say that because I can see more music coming and everything is being led by the music. It’s not led by meetings or labels, it’s led by music and us and we’re already working on music for next year. It feels natural.”
Radio 2 In Concert with Take That is on Thursday, November 23 and on BBC Sounds – and will be broadcast on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer on Saturday, November 25 along with Reel Stories: That That.
Subscribers can read the full Take That Music Week cover feature.
PHOTO: Guy Aroch