So, what now for the boys?
Will Robbie's return to Take That lead to the group's Greatest Day, asks Ed Power
Published 22/07/2010 | 05:00
We haven't felt this excited since Jon Bon Jovi started growing his mullet back. Robbie Williams has announced he is to reunite with Take That 15 years after walking out on the band to spend more time with Oasis. Grab an acoustic guitar and sing 'Kumbayah' -- pop's Second Coming is at hand!
This isn't one of those half-hearted, 'show us the money' reunions either. There will be a new album, produced by Madonna right-hand man Stuart Price.
And a world tour, which may well see Robbie Williams returning to Ireland for the first time since he got stuck in a levitating gondola above Croke Park and offered to make amends by putting on another concert for free (we're around next weekend if you are, Rob).
So off the scale are the levels of chumminess between the newly reunited band-mates that Williams and Take That songwriter Gary Barlow are even to star in a 'hilarious' video inspired by gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain (the comic potential for repressed homosexuality and saddle burn being endless, of course).
"I get embarrassingly excited when the five of us are in a room," said Williams, announcing that he and Barlow had recorded a new song, 'Shame', for his forthcoming greatest hits. "It feels like coming home."
Oddly, Barlow hasn't been available for comment. However, the rest of Take That sound spectacularly chuffed.
"Getting the five of us to be in a room together, although always a dream, never actually seemed like becoming a reality," said Mark Owen, whose admission of serial infidelity had seen him assume Robbie's bad-boy mantle in the line-up.
"Now the reality of the five of us making a record together feels like a dream. It's been an absolute delight spending time with Rob again. But I'm still a better footballer."
Band reunions are no big deal nowadays, of course. From Spandau Ballet to The Cranberries, Pixies to Stone Temple Pilots, everyone's at it. You half-expect The Beatles to announce they're going back on the road with animatronic dolls filling in for John and George ("Elvis" recently played The O2 in the form of a 10-metre high video projection so it's not as absurd as it sounds).
On the other hand, few bust-ups were as bitter and enduring as that between Robbie and Take That. As recently as 2006 Williams was gleefully firing fusillades at Barlow via his Rudebox LP (in one lyric he called the singer a c**k).
For their part, the rest of Take That spent years stewing in obscurity as Williams became the biggest pop star in Europe.
With the tables turned -- Williams' last two records have been tremendous flops -- it would be only human for them to savour his downfall.
The first steps towards rapprochement are believed to have occurred early last year after Barlow visited Williams at his home in Los Angeles, where it appears he spent much of the day scouring the horizon for UFOs.
"We had a great chat. He's really well and we're good buds again," Barlow said in March. "It was the best meet-up we've had since 1996."
Surprisingly, the announcement hasn't been met with the same emotional outpourings that marked Robbie's original departure from the group, when he'd made it perfectly clear he'd rather hang around with Oasis and take drugs than don a skimpy devil costume and camp it up with Lulu.
In fact, it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say the response has been greeted with a yawning silence. Could it be that Take That fans would rather Robbie stayed away?
"To be honest, the news has been receiving quite a mixed response from the fans," says Jolene Prendergast, who helps run the Irish Take That Fans website.
"Of course, there are some that absolutely love the idea of the original Take That reformed and complete, while others are concerned that it will change the dynamic that the other four have spent the past five years attaining."
The fear is that, just as before, Robbie's ego will eventually be too much to contain.
"There aren't many fans that are completely against it, but I think the majority are just worried that Robbie will find it difficult to become part of a band again, having been used to being the centre of attention for so long in his own solo career," says Prendergast.
"There is no denying that he is a big personality. Is it possible that he could destroy the fine balance the others have built on?"
Of course, there is another explanation for the muted response. Many of today's teenagers weren't even born when Robbie originally quit Take That. What do they care what some sweaty old dude with funny eyebrows and a crazy smirk gets up to?
"I've just done some maths though, and TT broke up in 1996, 14 years ago," says Sarah Breen, editor of teen magazine Kiss.
"So considering the average age of our reader is 14/15/16, most of them didn't know Robbie was ever in the band."
Breen has more vivid recollections of Williams' walk-out.
"I remember girls in my year calling a special hotline for grief counselling and walking around the school corridors wailing. As an Oasis fan, I was mortified that Robbie chose the Gallagher brothers to hang around with after his departure."
Still, there's no doubt but that, with Robbie on board, Take That stand to make a killing. On their own, Williams and Take That both filled Croke Park. When they tour together, the GAA might have to tack another tier on to the Hogan Stand in order to accommodate the attendance.
That said, just because a huge payday beckons doesn't mean old rivalries won't bob to the surface. Though band reunions are lucrative, not all is successful. Some musicians can't leave the past behind.
Take That fans must hope the only occasion Barlow and Williams end up tumbling around in the scrub slapping one another is while shooting that Brokeback Mountain video.
"There is no denying that the boys have spent quite a bit of time together in the past year or so," says Jolene Prendergast. "They have definitely ironed out a lot of the difficulties there were between the five of them, and predominantly between Gary and Robbie.
"The main consensus of the wary fans now is to be tentative and to trust the other four's judgement of how this will go. They have a huge amount to lose if it does go wrong," she adds.