On the curious Days I Hate Myself, the sixth track on enduring manband Take That’s ninth album, Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen dip their toes into ska. Ska! It’s a surprising, not entirely satisfying move on an album that takes more left turns than you’d expect from a band who could easily ignore new music altogether and rely on a discography woven tightly into UK pop’s DNA.
Recorded mainly in Nashville and New York, This Life eschews the anonymous synth-pop stylings of recent albums III and Wonderland to focus mainly on dusky 70s MOR and rustic pop-rock a la Elton John. So we get rich harmonies and barroom piano flurries on the title track, while single Windows marries a classic, richly melodic Barlow chorus to plucked acoustic guitar and big swirling strings.
Unfortunately, it’s an album that continues the frontman’s more recent songwriting democratisation, with Owen’s despondent The Champion and Donald’s limp One More Word both meandering around in search of memorable tunes. Barlow-led closer Where We Are ends things on a high, but while the band’s urge to evolve is admirable, the results are undeniably patchy.