#nowlistening: Take That, ‘Patience’

The assassination of JFK. The moon landing. 9/11. The death of Diana. Everything changes in a moment like that.

Oh, and when Robbie left Take That; that’s another one we’ll never forget. And it signalled in 1996 the end of the group, one of the most successful British boy bands since Jazzer’s uncles formed the Bay City Rollers.

Note: “British” only incorporates “Scottish” when it suits the English. Andy Murray will confirm.

Since then, they’ve reformed as a foursome, welcomed Robbie back, lost Robbie again and Jason too, and enjoyed occasional visits from Robbie. The on-again-off-again history of the band is more flippety-flop than Adam Macy’s sense of fidelity.

Perhaps no surprise, then, that it was Take That’s “Patience” playing last Tuesday (21 Feb) when Tom resisted Pat’s maternal anxiety over his emotional state in the wake of Kirsty’s miscarriage, because she and the Sausage King are also in a perennial state of will-they-won’t-they.

Throughout the scene, the lyrics mirror Tom’s emotions: starting at the second verse lyric “I really wanna start over again”, later lines like “I’m trying to move on” and “I’ll try to be strong” similarly match Tom’s feelings about the situation. This is matched by a mirroring of pitches, as Tom’s voice weaves in and out of the voices of however-many-members-of-Take-That-there-were-that-day. The underlying awkwardness of the conversation gives plenty of space to hear the most anthemic section of the song too, as the chorus kicks in with the crucial sing-along moment. And the gentle clipping of Tom’s voice lends his speech an air of the same slow groove that the song is built on. So his speech altogether merges with the musical frame.

Beyond Take That’s apparently pathological inability to stay together as a band—and probably because of the long hiatus following Robbie’s departure—they operate now not as the boy band they once were, but a “man band”. In the fiction of rock authenticity, “masculinity” is basically left unscrutinised wherever possible, and the narrative is fundamentally about the male ego and the trouble women cause. For the boy band, by contrast, masculinity is far more fragile. Like Rudy Vallee and the crooners of old, the boy band’s narrative is about the vulnerability of masculinity in the face of love. The big rock gods straddle the stage declaring they’re “gonna give you my love” (presumably whether you want it or not…). The boy band instead sing of their heartbreaks, their capacity for fidelity, and their need for women to come and save them. For this boy-band-grown-up, such fragility is still at the forefront; at that anthemic peak, the vulnerable height of Gary Barlow’s vocal pitch plus the lack of discernible words render it more like a wail of heartache than the screaming sexual climaxes of Led Zep et al.

It is this new-millennium masculinity that now characterises Tom, wrestling as he is with his responsibilities and whether he can ever be happy now. His proposal to Kirsty—which once upon a time would have been the Done Thing—was roundly derided by Kirsty, Helen, and all of Twitter. And so he’s a man in crisis, just like men the western world over are—for they are caught between paleolithic ‘programming’, the demands of the patriarchal order, the internal contradictions of neoliberalism where the “do what you like” mantra fails to cohere anything, and the rise of ‘post-feminism’.

To be sure—we might even suggest that Lord Barlow could pop into Bridge Farm if he’s missing a member at any point.