Single Review: "These Days," by Take That

 Is this why Jason left? Because they made him sleep on the floor? (image via YouTube)

Is this why Jason left? Because they made him sleep on the floor? (image via YouTube)

"Wow, that new One Direction song is pretty catchy."

Then I found out that the song I had just listened to was actually recorded by 1D's boy-band ancestors, Take That. Entitled "These Days," the track will serve as the lead single off the band's upcoming album, "III," the band's first record as a trio (Robbie Williams has resumed his solo career while Jason Orange announced his exit in September).

You'll have to forgive me for thinking that song was One Direction. After all, 1D seems to have cornered the market on upbeat pop songs featuring a heavy dance groove and multiple lead singers singing in unison, rather than harmony. This overproduced song sounds nothing like Take That. For one thing, the bouncy dance beat is something the band hasn't really utilized since its first two albums: "Take That & Party" (1992) and "Everything Changes" (1993). 

Additionally, the sounds of Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald singing in unison are quite jarring. Normally, you'd have either Gary or Mark singing lead with Howard doing his usual good job providing background harmonies (Jason was usually just there to dance - or to do his best Andrew Ridgeley impersonation and play a few chords on the guitar even though they weren't known for featuring guitar parts in songs - other than "Back for Good"). In this case, the three leads have been mixed into one voice and as a result, it sounds like a completely new person singing lead - someone we've never heard before on a Take That record (I'd say it could be Jason, but he actually managed a lead once in a while).

That being said, it's a great pop song. In fact, it might be the catchiest song that the band has ever recorded. There's an innocence and sweet naïveté to the lyrics, which are relentlessly affirmative and uplifting. "Tonight we gotta live for/ We gotta live for these days," they sing in the relentlessly catchy hook. "When you dream of a dream/ And you live in the world/ Every hope is a hope/ For the best don't want you resting my bones" epitomizes the idealism of the song. Meanwhile, the opening line, "Oh I can see the future/ Coming to you/ Crying with the sadness in your eyes," could be a "take that" of sorts to either Williams or Orange, who seemingly always think that the grass is greener on the other side.

The song is a marked contrast from the darker and more cynical tone of the band's previous album, 2010's "Progress," which saw them reunite with Williams for the first time since 1995's "Nobody Else." It's been widely reported that Gary, Mark and Howard recorded "III" as a trio and used "These Days" to try and tempt Jason back into the fold. Their effort failed, but it could explain why they opted for such an optimistic and upbeat sound. Maybe they hoped the good vibes would rub off and bring Mr. Orange back from his sabbatical.

The song is also representative of how the band has never been afraid to change its sound. Over the years, the band has reinvented itself several times. "Nobody Else" saw the band move on from the bubble gum dance style of its first two albums in order to embrace a more mature, ballad-heavy sound. The first two post-reunion efforts, "Beautiful World" (2006) and "The Circus" (2008), fell heavily on the adult-contemporary side. "Progress" sounded stylistically similar to Robbie Williams's latter solo albums (the BBC even called "Progress" the album "Rudebox" - Williams' disappointing 2006 foray into electronic influenced pop - "could have been").

With "These Days," Take That has reinvented itself once again. Too bad Gary, Mark and Howard have turned themselves into One Direction. 

Grade: B-

Victor Li

chicago, il