This Life

This Life

“I honestly don’t know what else we would do,” Howard Donald tells Apple Music 1’s Rebecca Judd of being in Take That for over three decades and as a trio alongside Gary Barlow and Mark Owen since 2014. “We like making songs together and it doesn’t feel like work. So I don’t know why we wouldn’t be doing it in 30 years unless we have a big fallout.” Still, you can’t help but wonder how Take That keep things fresh after so many years—and several line-up changes—as one of Britain’s most beloved bands. For their ninth record, This Life, the answer to that question lay in crossing the Atlantic. Its songs were made largely between Savannah, Nashville, and New York, and with new collaborators including Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Dolly Parton: “I mean, the list is endless,” says Owen of the producer’s work) and Jennifer Decilveo (Miley Cyrus, Anne-Marie, The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr). “It’s really good to keep moving around because I think if you turn up at the same desk every day to do a big job, like doing an album, I think it’s going to sound tired,” says Barlow. “You get to New York, you’re in this amazing studio, it’s like, ‘Right, let’s go again.’” Those American roots also, as Owen puts it, gave the record “a big-sky sound”—and that sense of expansion is palpable across This Life. Six years on from the often synth-led pop of 2017’s Wonderland,This Life more commonly features guitars, pianos, and strings, nods to Americana, and a looser, more wide-screen sound. The songs here are both rousing (“March of the Hopeful”, “We Got All Day”) and soft and reflective (the lovely “Windows,” a song about letting the light in after a turbulent time, or “Brand New Sun”) and, of course, feature the tight harmonies and stadium-sized choruses that have defined Take That’s second act. Producing something that they could imagine playing in front of a crowd was key (Barlow: “Mark said, ‘What you’ve got to imagine is is that we walk out on the stage and we’re waving to everybody. That’s the type of song we’re looking for’”), but they had so much more in mind than just sing-along melodies. “We wanted music that felt organic and we wanted music that felt of our time in life as well,” says Barlow. “Authentic, well-written music.” This album is also about three men who are now in their fifties contemplating both where they are and how far they’ve come, its title a neat encapsulation of its main theme. “It is an album about our lives and where we’re at right now,” says Barlow. “We’re obviously writing at a point of our lives where we’ve experienced a lot and the content is quite dense and interesting. I think it’s a good age to be a songwriter, because a lot of things have happened, good and bad, which is all good for songwriting.” You’ll hear the bad on the title track, which feels like it was written for their younger selves or their children, as they reflect, “This life ain’t no bed of roses/This life will take everything that you’ve got/In this life, there’s no second chances/Make this life yours,” against buoyant pop, and on “Time and Time Again”: “And there’s no life vest/When you’re out of your depth/Trying to keep yourself afloat/Gonna need a bigger boat.” Elsewhere, they admit to feeling “lost” (“Days I Hate Myself”), “a little bit broken” (“The Champion”), and, on “One More Word,” guilty at not being around enough (“I wish I could be everywhere/Be present when you need me there”). But this being Barlow, Donald, and Owen, there is also plenty of the good. Whether in its soaring melodies or uplifting lyricism, this is an album laced with optimism and one which often heralds the power of keeping going, no matter what life throws at you. And by its close, you get the sense that, after 30 years, Take That wouldn’t change a thing. “We’ve walked the line and seen it all/Filled up our beating hearts,” they sing on “Where We Are” in harmonies that recall 2007’s “Rule the World.” “Just look at where we are/The years behind us/ We’ve come so far.”

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