Upon its original release in December last year, ‘III’ was a pivotal moment in Take That’s career. Now a three-piece following the shock departure of Jason Orange and Robbie Williams returning to his solo career, the band and general public were somewhat apprehensive of the band’s future. They needn’t have worried. ‘III’ flew straight into Number One, breaking the record for the most pre-ordered album in Amazon’s history and was later certified platinum. A sold out UK arena tour followed and Take That validated their persistent presence as one of the UK’s most successful bands.
Almost one year later, ‘III’ is still as bold and buoyant as it was upon release. ‘These Days’ remains a piece of pop perfection with its Nile Rodgers Chic-like guitar riffs, disco stomping percussion and tight harmonies. 2015 addition ‘Hey Boy’ follows the same formula, mirroring camp 80’s disco. Lyrically, it’s rather lazy in comparison to the rest of the album and Owen’s rap-like vocals are questionable but the track is incessantly funky, glimmering with Greg Kurstin’s polished production. Kurstin also steers the ship on other golden pop moments on the album. ‘If You Want It’ is a sleek pop track featuring gorgeous shimmering synths, euphonious layers of harmony and a kick-ass beat whilst the poignant ‘Freeze’ mourns the departure of Jason Orange through a dramatic ’80’s synth-pop track.
‘Progress’ producer Stuart Price returns on the more electro moments. ‘Let in the Sun’, one of the album’s highlights, is reminiscent of material by the likes of Calvin Harris; an EDM influenced track featuring gorgeous moments of falsetto by Barlow, rousing lyrics and an energised chorus. Lead vocal duties are generously handed to Owen on ‘Lovelife’, an effervescent electro track with a Parisian-sounding melody, acoustic guitar strums and stomping percussion. ‘Into The Wild’ is a dramatic and powerful track on which Take That channel The Killers, featuring eerie electro sounds, tribal drums and Owen’s distinctive bass vocals. A bizarre union of ‘Shine’ and ‘Underground Machine’ is found on ‘I Like It’, a bouncy and mechanical track which features synthesised bass, funky guitar riffs, Bee-Gee-like falsetto harmonies and as many production effects as Price can possibly toss into the mix.
Price knows how to induce softer moments in the album too. ‘Portrait’ begins tentatively with Barlow’s falseto fluttering over gentle guitar strums and timorous synthesisers before before Donald and Owen join the fold in a catchy Barber-shop-styled ‘ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba’ chorus. The lush layers of harmony and giggling synthesisers are a lovely touch in Price’s production and it’s a gorgeous, uplifting track. Howard Donald lends his lead vocal to ‘Give You My Love’, a mellow pop track which is reminiscent of Barlow’s keyboard frolicking on 1993’s ‘Everything Changes’.
John Shanks, producer of the band’s ‘Beautiful World’ and ‘The Circus’ albums brings a more organic sound to the album. ‘Flaws’ is a raw, classic Barlow-ballad which sounds as if it could have been an outtake from Barlow’s ‘Since I Saw You Last’ solo album. It’s a welcome break from the intensity of the album and a lovely track. Original album finale ‘Get Ready For It’ is a euphoric pop-rock stadium anthem abundant with ‘woah’ hooks, crashing percussion and fierce guitar strums. Shanks is also responsible for producing the bonus tracks: invigorating anthem ‘Believe’, Beatles-esque ‘Amazing’ and the spectacular power ballad ‘Do It all For Love’.
Elsewhere, Take That allow lesser-known producers to experiment with their sound. In-demand but still largely unknown producers Mattman and Robin sprinkle their magic on conventional Take That ballad ‘Higher than Higher’, another of ‘III’s’ highlights. Precarious percussion, a mesh of broken vocals and jittery synthesisers open the track before it stabilizes into a steady marching beat. Barlow delivers perfect, tender vocals whilst Donald and Owen provide gorgeous harmonies which reverberate endlessly into the spaced-out, meticulously programmed R&B track. Their ‘higher, higher than higher’ harmonies in the track’s finale somewhat bizarrely emulate an African choir but is one of many lovely touches in its arrangement and production.
Profound power-ballad ‘Will You Be There for Me?’ is comprised of descending percussion, soft plucked acoustic guitars and lavish layers of harmony. Produced by unknown producers AFSHeeN and Josh Cumbee alongside German hitmaker Toby Gad, it’s a moody R&B styled ballad with a brilliant vocal performance by Barlow. It’s yet another change in sound for Take That but one which works perfectly and is without a doubt the best of the new tracks from the 2015 edition.
WTNSS, a duo consisting of Charlie Russell and Bradley Spence, lend their production expertise to final two tracks ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Bird in Your Hand’. Evidently Owen’s choice of producers (the duo worked on his 2013 ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’ solo album), they bring another dimension to the album. ‘Carry Me Home’ is a folk-styled pop track featuring tribal drums in the same vein as ‘Into The Wild’, metallic guitars and an epic chorus. Once again, harmonies are diligently layered to great effect and Owen’s distinctive falsetto vocals are particularly lovely. Final track ‘Bird in Your Hand’ is a delicate piano-synth ballad on which the band’s vocals reverberate infinitely. It’s a gorgeous song which mirrors hidden Progress track ‘Flowerbed’. The track is noteworthy for featuring the song-writing credit of the late Michael C. Corson, husband of a Thatter. His lyrics found their way to team Take That and elements were used in the final product.
‘III’ has maintained its ability to impress. Whilst the new tracks don’t necessarily contain the sturdiness required to be single-release material, they are a hugely enjoyable addition to the album.
A triumphant album featuring an eclectic amalgamation of material.
- Rating: 5/5 [Both original album and 2015 updated version.]
- Highlights: These Days, Let in the Sun, Portrait, Higher than Higher, Freeze, Flaws, Do it all for Love, Will You Be There For Me, Bird in Your Hand.
‘III (2015 Edition)’ is available now on Polydor Records.
[You can read my original review of ‘III’ here.]