After the arguably unexpected success of first album as a trio ‘III’ and three years later, Europe’s favourite
boy man-band have returned with an intriguing and some-what confused new album.
‘Wonderland’ is exactly what is says on the tin – it’s a flamboyant, dizzying album full of up-tempo Pop. But whereas ‘III’ was an amalgamation of Take That’s sound (the Pop-Rock of Beautiful World and The Circus, fused with the electropop of Progress and a fresh Pop sound) ‘Wonderland’ attempts a more brash, disco-pop/indie-pop sound. It’s more successful on some tracks more than others.
The album’s title track, which opens the album is arguably the best song present. Its oriental, simmering introduction evolves into a funky 1980’s themed track. Musically, its captures the spirit of material by The 1975, though its lyrical content makes it stop short. On similar levels of camp abundance, ‘Lucky Stars‘ is effortless pop perfection with its squeaky synthesizers whilst ‘And The Band Plays‘ relies on bizarre co-ordination between electronic instruments and a brass band. It’s all undoubtedly a lot of fun, though it does scream ‘Mid Life Crisis’.
Singles ‘Giants‘ and ‘New Day‘ are classic Take That and are sturdy tracks with soaring choruses. In fact, the album’s best moments are when the band relies on their well-known and well-loved sound. ‘Hope‘ is a stunning ballad in a similar vein to the band’s best ballads ‘Said It All‘ and ‘The Circus‘. ‘The Last Poet‘ lyrically returns the Take That boys back to the top of the game with the beautifully simple ‘For you I can’t find words’ whilst musically it matches the triumph of ‘The Circus’ and ‘III’ albums. Then there’s the electronic brilliance of ‘Every Revolution‘ which serves as ‘Affirmation‘ Part II. Donald’s vocals shine as always whilst dizzy synthesises soar in the background. It’s a lovely track, though one bound to be lost in the fun of the rest of the album.
The fact is, for any other band or artist, ‘Wonderland’ would be a triumph. But after years of solid pop albums, for a Take That album, it just stops short of being another classic. It’s a little too brash – a little too carefully plotted for arenas to stand on its own as a successful album. Then there’s the lyrics. Much of the album documents getting over unmentioned issues which is nice enough but it also feels a little half-arsed at times. ‘Every morning it is a brand new day’ is a nice enough lyric, though by the end of ‘New Day‘, one feels like telling Barlow ‘Tell me something I don’t know’. At times, the album feels over-brash, over-thought and over-produced. On many of the ballads, Barlow stands too close for comfort to the microphone, presumably to capture a raw sound, though it just sounds like he needs to take a step back.
For all its flaws, ‘Wonderland’ is not a bad album. Far from it, in fact. There’s plenty of substantial material here and is a fun listen. It just happens that it isn’t Take That’s best work.
Highlights: Wonderland, Giants, Hope, The Last Poet, Every Revolution.