What I learned from Take That: For The Record and Look Back, Don’t Stare

This weekend I watched both of the big documentaries Take That have made since their break-up. First was For The Record which told the story of the band’s first six years, how it ended and what happened next, and showed the four permanent members reuniting after ten years apart. Second was Look Back, Don’t Stare, which showed Robbie’s return to the group after the other four had won back their former success. I found the first documentary very moving, with sad and uplifting moments, and I felt a real fondness for all of the band members at the end of it. However, the second documentary was interesting only as an insight into what went on at that time.

The five young boys shown in For The Record’s flashbacks were charismatic, cute and great fun. I wished I’d been old enough to be a Take That fan in those days, and some of the behind the scenes clips reminded me of what The Wanted are like now, but even sillier and wilder. The five men looking back at the band’s early days were endearing and self-aware. But when it came to Look Back, Don’t Stare, it felt like the original Take That spirit had been lost. There was little joking, only the odd bit of banter about the old days, and a lot of very serious, self-indulgent conversations about who has a big ego and who is most integral to the band.

It seemed that Gary and Robbie had made peace, but I think this was only because Gary had asserted himself as the leader again and Robbie was returning with his tail between his legs as his last solo album hadn’t been a hit. If he wanted to come back, it was Gary’s way or no way. The tension was now with Jason, who never got on well with Robbie (it was Jason who pushed for Robbie to leave in 1995) and now that he was back, had become even less important than he ever was in the group. In the film, Gary welcomes Robbie’s lyrical contributions, as he feels not letting Robbie get involved before was the cause of many problems, but Jason makes a clear effort to prevent the reunion from being too much about Robbie.

At their first meeting as a reformed five-piece, Jason and Howard joked that they should have prepared some dance routines so they could contribute something, as the other three were all accomplished songwriters, but it wasn’t really so much a joke as a plea to be included in some way. And the plea wasn’t answered as the group began to rehearse the song that was eventually the biggest hit from their last album, The Flood. Jason didn’t move his mouth once, even during the chorus, while Robbie and Gary sang the song as a duet.

Once I’d finished watching the documentaries, I felt more so than ever that Take That were a very special and important band. But “were” is the operative word – their early days were the height of what pop should be like. The fan mania, the silliness, and the look in their eyes that said “I’m living the dream” even if they say now that they weren’t. That was the impression they gave and it’s no wonder so many people wanted to feel part of it.

Their first six years of success is a template for what I would love to see a band do in the future, and I really hope it’s possible that it can be recreated. But as for Take That as they are now… I find it very difficult to care.

Watch For The Record online here and Look Back, Don’t Stare here.

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