Having finally ended years of speculation by kissing and making up with former member Robbie Williams, the first taste of Take That as a five-piece in fifteen years wasn't overly inspiring. Though sure to be a chart-topper, 'The Flood' is a fairly standard single, a reliable ballad with a solid backing beat - fine but hardly remarkable. Though it wouldn't have been hugely surprising if this reunion turned out to be little more than a well-timed excuse to plunder a long dormant goldmine, picking up exactly where they left off with The Circus and throwing in an extra vocal line for Robbie, as it turns out, the boys were actually playing it very safe with their single choice. Far from being more of the same, the rest of 'Progress' is jammed with smart, stylish and irresistibly catchy tunes.
Knowing well what their fans want to see, Robbie is not only back but largely takes centre stage here, his influence on the songwriting process clearly audible in many of these songs. His "rockier" sensibilities sit side by side with a modern dance-pop vibe that would befit any new fresh-faced group, and is indicative of Take That's keen ability to adjust their music in line with each new phase of their story - the key to their continuing colossal levels of success. Disregarding his reputation as the "bad boy" of the bunch, Robbie has undoubtedly got the most distinctive voice of the five, genuinely adding a dimension that you didn't even realise was missing when Take That were four.
Mark Owen takes the lead on some of Progress' more gripping, up-tempo numbers, sharing main vocal duties with Robbie on two of the album's standout tracks; 'SOS', a non-stop goer with a catchy-as-hell chorus, and 'Kidz', a massive production kicking off with pounding drums, resonating piano and grimy synths. Once again bringing out heavy bass and big drums, 'Underground Machine' adds some scratchy guitars and bendy electronics to precedings, while 'Pretty Things' is a sweet, quirky little number that almost seems too cutesy before winning you over with its endearing charm. Of course, Progress has its low points too - 'Eight Letters' wanders shamefully into boyband cheeseland with its sappy lyrics - but as out-and-out pop albums go, this one's a belter.