The cover of Take That's fifth album depicts all four members balancing precariously on tightropes, but mastering the manoeuvre with poise and grace. It's an apt metaphor, in a way; when the former teen heartthrobs decided to make a comeback two years ago, it was something of a risky endeavour. Could four grown men best remembered for spelling their band's name out on their bum cheeks be taken as 'serious' artists? As it happens, they were - and it wasn't just their loyal fanbase that welcomed them back with open arms, either.
So, building on their hugely successful return should be an easy feat for the Mancunian man-band - just turn in another collection of vaguely poppy tracks and a couple of sombre ballads, and hey presto! You've got another hit album on your hands. As formulaic as that sounds, however, Take That manage to add a dash of panache to The Circus, which is more than can be said for a number of their ill-advised peers.
Unlike their last record, there's perhaps no immediate hit apparent here; these are mostly tracks that start from seeds of doleful piano hazes, before blooming into orchestral wonders. The Garden is a good example, its horn-laden crescendo providing a festive-tinted opener, as does the slightly hoary title track, all Chicago-like sentiment and gramophone-filtered vocals. The best tracks, though, are the ones billowing with Beatles-style pomp; Hello's brisk tempo, Jason Orange's sweet trill on the easygoing How Did It Come to This, the carnival-style (if somewhat cliched) pep of Up All Night.
No doubt about it: as pop albums go, this is fairly standard fare. But Take That know and accept their boundaries, and they perform the songs within them with enthusiasm and a indisputable seal of quality. And all four members can sing, too - which again, is more than can be said for a number of their ill-advised peers.