Just over a month ago, gossip-mongers across the country worked themselves silly by the revelation that one of our nation’s greats, the self acclaimed pop king Robbie Williams, had brought to us all: up there in cyberspace he said in his very own words that, like some prodigal son of pop, he wanted to swagger back into the arms of his old band mates Take That.
Believable? That he’s yearning for any spare press and we’re happy to lap it up, yes. But let’s take a step back and attempt (through our undoubted excitement and anticipation, of course) to make a balanced evaluation of the situation and the claims of all involved. The Sun newspaper seems to think that Robbie allegedly buying a new £7 million mansion in the UK is proof enough that a reunion is imminent. We should also not forget the brand new tattoo of a Take That logo that Robbie just got on his arm to declare his love for one of either ‘The Circus’, or his distant past.
Here is where this writer becomes sceptical. Barlow has been quoted as saying that “the five of us were together a lot over the summer and it felt like we were back in the ‘90s.” This comment raises issues on two counts. “Back in the ‘90s” is over now; why, with all the current success of Take That, should they or we (either as critics or fans) want them to regress to the Take That of more than a decade previous? The notion of them all being friends again is heart-warming, admittedly, but this “getting to know him again” could arguably be seen as a little forced considering “Mark gets an email every other week” from Robbie – hardly the signs of a Take That-style brotherly love blooming again. Even the band is unsure about how or when this fantasised reunion is going to occur.
Gary says he believes they’ll fully reform one day, while Mark “doubt[s] it’d ever be a prepared, organised thing. If he does turn up it’ll be a nice surprise”. Such confusion and contradiction could tell us that this is no desperate press-seeking or hoax on their behalf, but it is rather more likely the media’s hysteria over, sadly, something with little conviction in it.
Robbie himself claims that “the thing that struck [him] most is how much fun they’re having”. It’d be easy to see “fun” as a blatant euphemism for “success”, but there is another angle to this. We should really question this idea of Robbie’s supposed craving for success as part of a band again. Apparently he’s lonely and “it’s more rewarding when you’re a gang”, but six of his albums selling over 2 million copies in the UK to Take That’s one says that this assumed greed for more glory might not be all that true; will they ever do anything as successful and important for pop music as ‘Angels’? It’s undeniable that the last couple of records have flopped, and that Robbie became the nation’s joke as opposed to their boy wonder, but rumour has it that recently his loneliness has been reduced at least in part by making up with Guy Chambers to start writing a supposedly brilliant new album.
This album, expected some time in 2009, will be the last due to EMI after the high point of his career (and, let’s be honest, of pop music) when Robbie signed the biggest record deal in history for £80 million in 2002. So when Robbie claims he has “unfinished business” to attend to before a reunion with Take That can happen, we can assume that contractual issues may be causing the hold-up. Interest from labels is expected to rise again as soon as the EMI deal is finished, undoubtedly helped along by this press, so there could be a chance of Polydor catching Robbie and inviting him back to the Take That fold for real.
Are we to condemn or celebrate these rumours of a reunion? Let’s say, for a second, that we believe it will happen. Will it be, as Mark Owen suggests, a live return? Then a whole tour, or maybe a one-off performance at the Brits? Or is this to be a full-blown regrouping? We all assume Williams’ greed to be his incentive, but frankly that greed won him fans before. The cheeky “are you seriously this arrogant?” boastfulness is what makes Robbie a singular persona and entity now though, and somehow making him a backing singer for Gary Barlow again just would not work. Perhaps pop fans should be happy to celebrate Take That’s current success as a four-piece and pray that Robbie’s next offering will be as good as we all want it to be; this nostalgia is only useful up to a certain point in a musical landscape that barely (if at all) resembles that of 1995.
RP With Research By MH