Firstly, I have been a fan since Take That were around the first time, from when I was 6 or 7 years old. Even back then, my love of them was for the music, I never saw them live because I was so young and rarely saw them on television, I only had the albums and loved to listen to them. Even back then, I wasn't very fond of Robbie as I disliked his vocals, whereas, Gary was my favourite because I loved his. When Robbie left, I was far from devastated...when the rest split a year later, I was still very young, and there were still many songs (b-sides) I hadn't heard, so wasn't upset...just started collecting as many of the singles as I could, on tape, CD or even vinyl(!) in an attempt to hear the songs I hadn't yet done so.
I was absolutely delighted when Gary, Mark, Jason and Howard came back as a four-piece a few years ago. My tastes in music had grown a lot by then, ranging from cheesy pop like Steps and more recently, Same Difference to classic bands like Bon Jovi, The Police or U2 via artists like David Gray, Damien Rice, Corinne Bailey Rae...I could go on - I like to give anything a listen at least once!
When it was confirmed that Robbie was going to be rejoining the band, I did have big doubts, I am one of the fans who was least willing to have him back. I still don't want it to be forever - one album, one tour - that'd be great. But, ultimately, it is only really up to the band whether it continues or not. Despite only having The Flood to go by, I happily pre-ordered the album and tried (for 6 hours non-stop) to get tickets for the tour.
Just days before the album was released, iTunes had 30 second previews of all the tracks...I loaded up the store to have a listen straightaway. As I played each clip, I did find myself feeling a little disappointed and very shocked. I liked Eight Letters and the hidden track Flowerbed (and of course, The Flood) but really wasn't keen on the rest. It did sound a little like there was too much Robbie, and that Take That's sound had changed a bit too much. I guess I was expecting the whole album to sound much more like The Flood.
But I kept an open mind and waited patiently for the release. Unfortunately Amazon didn't get my pre-ordered copy to me until Thursday 18th (hmmm) but a local radio station played the album in full on the Monday morning. I was right to reserve my judgement until I had been able to hear the full album, as even through a slightly dodgy radio signal, I began to get more used to the new sound.
Having now listened to all the songs countless times I have found Wait to be the biggest grower, starting off as a track I wasn't very impressed with, to one that I find myself happily singing along to in my head. Flowerbed and especially Eight Letters, that had started off as favourites have now been overtaken by Happy Now, SOS and Kidz.
(I think. I do reserve the right to change my mind depending on my mood at the time of listening to the album...)
Least favourite tracks are Affirmation (mainly just because I'm not as keen on Howard's vocals, the song itself is good) and What Do You Want From Me, sung by Mark. The latter starts off quite well but I just end up finding myself cringing a bit if I listen too much to the lyrics!
Those that think it is all Robbie singing, it's not, it may seem like it on first listen but you can hear the other guys perfectly well, with the others all singing full lead on a song each (What Do You... for Mark; Affirmation for Howard; Eight Letters for Gary; and Flowerbed for Jason). Most of the other tracks have shared lead vocals (such as Mark and Gary on Kidz).
Another thing worth commenting on is the fantastic artwork - great concept!
Overall, the album is a grower, and you will need to allow yourself time to adjust to the new sound - don't start listening to it expecting to hear songs similar to their previous releases...
Take this album as a separate work and listen with an open mind to it through speakers, headphones, in the car, in the background and as the only thing you're doing - you WILL hear something different each time.
I read a review on here where someone rated this with 1 star after listening once and then throwing it in the bin...you should NEVER only judge anyone or anything on first impressions, and this album is no exception!