Pop Song Review: Take That – “These Days”

This should be an interesting week for the charts, with AC/DC, Take That and McBusted all contending for success. To recognise this not-actually-all-that-interesting turn of events, let’s review “These Days”, the new single from Take That.

First impressions: Take That go Ibiza. That’s a thing now, apparently.

The music: I’ll concede that Take That are in a weird position at the moment: four albums into their post-reunion career, they’ve gone from starting out for round two with four members, to getting the original five back for 2010’s Progress, only to find themselves reduced to a trio for their latest album, wittily entitled III. They’re at an uncertain crossroads and I can understand that their goal right now might be to find cover in the ever-changing winds that are the single charts. But really, Ibiza pop?

Okay, in my opinion, the music on Progress was a modest success because it engaged with then-current musical trends while, at the same time, bringing a sophistication to the table that few of their contemporaries embodied; by which I mean, “yeah, they ripped off Lady Gaga too, but at least they made some good music out of it.” So who are they mimicking now? Calvin Harris, I guess. I mean, this is his brand of glassy, shimmering synthpop, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s a lot more fun than Harris’ recent output, and though I could really do without the breathless quasi-rap vocals in the verses they do come up with a fairly strong, upbeat melody for the bridge and chorus. The Caribbean-esque beat is a tad grating and, as far as Dance Take That goes, doesn’t even touch the funky, spiky edge of “Love Love” or “Kidz” (yes, I’m complimenting electro-Take That – wanna make something of it?), but it’s hooky enough and definitely danceable, so the young’uns will like it. Does that make it a successful update of their sound, though, or a cynical ploy to remain relevant? I want to say the former, because I do have a soft spot for this band, but… er… I really don’t know, guys.

I suppose in a lot of ways, “These Days” is the closest Take That have come to recreating their original Nineties pop sound since the reunion, which puts the line “take me back to where it all began” in a much clearer light. Personally, as fun as it is, I think it’s a bit of a step back for a band that had matured nicely in recent years and represented a classier, more sophisticated variety of pop music for people like me who generally resent the charts. But hey, if “I Found Heaven 2014” is something you wanted, well, you’re in nirvana right now, aren’t you? Except for the whole “two absent members” thing – sorry about that.

The lyrics“I can see the future coming to you / crying with the sadness in your eyes / and I can find a faith in years I’ve wasted / being around enough to feel alive.” So it’s about the passage of time, which was obvious from the title really. Take That are looking back at their past, coming to terms with their glory days and the time they could have spent doing more, and the inevitable future racing towards them, thankful merely that they’re still here to enjoy it all. It’s a pretty mature outlook for a song as bouncy as this to try and support. I’m impressed.

“Take me back / to where it all began / to where our memories grow / before the day goes off.” Goes off? What, like in the way milk goes off if you leave it out for too long? Nah, Take That are looking way back deep into their memories, or rather where they grow (so, the hippocampus?). They want to go back, too, so there’s a definite sense of yearning for nostalgia and years passed here. Essentially it’s a song about “living for the night” from a group of middle-aged men who should arguably know better, but if you think about it surely they’ve got more reason to live for now than some young putz who still has a fair shed-ful of nights to live for?

“Tonight we gotta live for / we gotta live for these days / tonight, tonight, we’ll remember / we’ll remember these days.” Hang on, so you want to go “back to where it all began”, but you also insist that we have to “live for these days,” indicating the present? And you’re looking to the future and how you’ll look back at the days you’re reliving now, which are in the present? Or is that the past? Are Take That actively trying to make a paper plane out of the space-time continuum?

“What a day to believe, to believe in the night / want a date to belong, to a face in the crowd to the beat of your heart.” Some juicy tomatoes in this word salad, aren’t there? Seriously, though, what does this line even mean? You love the night (sooo maaanyyy shaaaadoooows!), you want a date (here you go, pal), you want to belong, you want to be in the crowd and something about the beat of a heart. It’s like they took every dance-pop cliché ever and shoved them into one lyric which… is actually pretty admirable. Well done, Take That. Well done.

Verdict: I really don’t know how to feel about “These Days,” mostly because I can’t decide if Take That are overcoming their odds or succumbing to them. In the end it’s not a great song, but it could have been a lot worse; and at least it’ll have a decent place on the “updated” greatest hits album they’ll inevitably be releasing in a few Christmases’ time. 3 out of 5.

Today’s double-up is “Wasted Years” by Iron Maiden.

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