Take That - The Ultimate Tour Review
No, I didn't cry when they announced that they were breaking up in February 1996 but I suspect that most people didn't bar a gaggle of teenage girls who were cornered by unscrupulous reporters for the television news channels. Much the same, I suspect, how unwitting teenagers dressed in black were embarrassingly presented to the nation following the death of Kurt Cobain, suggesting that the news channels aren't much interested in pop stars unless they're dead, either literally or to the charts.
Still, there's always time for a happy ending in pop and there's no happier moment when someone returns in triumphant fashion, even if the only ones doing the hailing are precious journalists for whom the passing of The Icicle Works was worthy of note. In 2001, the big news was the return of the classic Duran Duran line-up, which was even successful in dragging Roger Taylor out of scuba-diving, horse-rearing or whatever he'd been doing since he left after the Arcadia/Power Station bits and pieces. Yours truly, still smarting at the failure of Rio being consistently overlooked as a classic pop album and of The Chauffeur not being recognised as genius art-rock, almost swooned at the news.
In 2006, though, the biggest pop news of the year, moreso even than the ending of Top Of The Pops, Britney Spears choosing not to wear knickers when partying with Paris Hilton, Justin Hawkins leaving The Darkness and Keith Richards falling from a coconut tree, was the return of Take That. Or at least four of them, Gary, Howard, Jason and little Mark. The teenage girls from ten years ago, now all grown up, temporarily forgot their boyfriends or husbands and cheered them on once again, as did popular culture, which never afforded Take That much respect first time around. Actually, it's fair to say that the returning Take That were celebrated in a way that Boyzone or Westlife never will be. Something to do, regardless of one's conscious efforts, to knowing the words to Relight My Fire, Pray, Babe and Back For Good. And loving the underdog - and the Robbie-less Take That were nothing if not underdogs - I think we secretly breathed a sigh of relief when Patience reached the top of the singles chart at the same time as Beautiful World did the same in the album chart.
This DVD release comes from a recording made at the City of Manchester Stadium in June, which sees the foursome playing mostly old material - almost all of the hits but including Pray, It Only Takes A Minute, Relight My Fire, Back For Good, Babe, Could It Be Magic, How Deep Is Your Love and Never Forget - as well as a Beatles Medley and something called Apache 2006, which relates the rules of being in a boy band. So far, so much for keeping the fans happy with material they know but even as one who would never have counted themselves as a fan, the band just seem that much more relaxed than what I remember of the live efforts from the mid-nineties. Howard even has a seat on the edge of the stage at one point, a gesture that had me nodding in sympathy but which seemed an odd one for a one-time member of a boyband. One assumes that it comes less from the confidence of youth than the nonchalance that comes when one is comfortably into one's thirties. However, even more noticeable is that Gary Barlow, who always looked slightly uncomfortable at having his bottom hanging out of a pair of red PVC trousers, now looks to be having fun. Having always borne a discomfort that appeared to come from there being only five years between appearing on Pebble Mill at One with Let's Pray For Christmas and the release of Take That ... And Party in 1992, Barlow was, in spite of his being the songwriter, never the most convincing member of the band but now looks to be having enough fun to actually be dancing.
However, otherwise, it's a fairly standard live recording in that fans will enjoy it almost as life itself but which will only have a passing interest to anyone else. Still, it is Take That and not, referring to recent reviews, the likes of Europe and Whitesnake, whose appeal, to use a Tap-ism, is more selective. Like The Beatles, The Bee Gees and Barry Manilow, we all know something of them, which, even if its them rolling about in jelly whilst dressed in studded leather pants, is more than any of us might ever know about Five, Phixx or A1. And, frankly, that's how it should be, just as much as it's about ridiculous moments in pop, such as four boys from the north-west popping back out of the dumper in such style as they did.
A fairly typical-looking live concert, The Ultimate Tour would appear to have been filmed on digital video and though it doesn't look at all bad, it is purely functional. Never blinded by the lights nor getting lost either around the stage nor in the audience, it has been very professionally made with the inserts of the crowds looking natural rather than in a rather desperate hope that those at might be convinced that once upon a time, someone, somewhere actually enjoyed this. On the other hand, the audio tracks are really very good with my own preference for the DD2.0 track probably playing second fiddle to what will be most people's choice of a very full-sounding DTS5.1 track. However, both of them are very clear with the voices standing out from the backing, particularly on Pray.
Bonus Live CD: Showing a fairly professional attitude to this release, Take That have done the decent thing and included a short CD of live versions of Pray, Babe, Everything Changes, A Million Love Songs and Back For Good. If only every live music DVD was as generous... Actually, being heterosexual and not having much interest in looking at Take That, this was my preferred disc and had it on at least once but no more than three times during my reviewing of this set. The quality of the recording is very good and will doubtless be much appreciated by those who've picked up this release.
The Ultimate Story (33m55s): Rare it is that a band actually has something worth saying on a DVD - a typical comment to camera might have us believe that the crowds in Macclesfield are even better this year than last - but this feature gives the four returning members of Take That an opportunity to talk about their reunion and how a drunken meeting in London led to them getting back on the stage. This is followed by showing the band rehearsing for the gigs, also giving us a very brief opportunity to meet the behind-the-scenes people and the musicians and dancers giving support.
Mark's Stage Tour (8m48s): Thank heavens they only sing otherwise we'd have seven-and-a-half minutes of this given over to the guitarist talking about his amps. As it is, this just-under-ten-minutes slot sees Mark showing us about the stage in the manner of one who's just moved into a new home. He's dwarfed by it but then it would seem as though Mark is dwarfed by a lot of things in life.
The Ultimate Fans (10m28s): I was tempted to say there's not a man in sight but there is. Actually quite a few more than I thought there would be, not all of whom are standing embarrassed behind a girlfriend or wife. That said, most of those who parade themselves in front of the camera in this feature are women, only half of whom would have been fans the first time around, the rest of them being as young as the girls who mourned the passing of Take That in 1996.
Understage Action (27m21s): Not a euphemism for a bit of 'ow's-yer-father through the back door but footage from behind and underneath the stage as the band get ready to take the stage or change costume between songs. Granted, there probably is something of an audience for seeing Take That in their pants, which may see this as being one of the more popular DVD extras that has been put together. It is possible to watch this either on its own, included as a single feature, or broken up during the concert and presented in order.
Finally, all of these bonus features are subtitled in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.
No, it hasn't turned me into a fan - Durannie, Brosette...I'm not entirely sure what a Take That fan actually calls themselves - but it's a very decent release and probably a better than anyone might have expected, particularly with that bonus CD of live songs. Being thirty-five and not ten years younger, it doesn't quite compare to the return of Duran Duran - although I'd actually have preferred Frankie Goes To Hollywood to have made a comeback - but I'm sure, given it's current success, there will be many who'll be very happy with this release this coming Christmas.