With “Pray” I made the case for Take That being – visually at any rate – something new in British pop. But they could do tradition, too – “Relight My Fire”, a confident consolidation of their stardom, put down careful markers on two different strands of pop heritage.
One was Brit-pop as light entertainment. Guest vocalist Lulu had the lungs for the job – she needed to, replacing a Loleatta Holloway vocal – but she also had the pedigree to sell Take That as a family act, pecs’n’kecks notwithstanding. Barlow’s songwriting was already doing the job of making his group cuddly – now here was a much-loved face from olden days to back that up. (At the time I only had a very fuzzy grasp on why Lulu was famous and I doubt I was alone in this.)
The other pop tradition was disco. Britain never tried to stuff the disco genie back into the bottle in the way America had – no heaps of burning disco records in, say, Cardiff Arms Park – and the music was uncool mostly in the way that everything 70s was. Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t: Take That were far from the last pop act to put down roots with a disco cover – it was as accepted a move for 90s boy and girl groups as R&B covers had been for the Beatles’ generation. If anything, the mainstream disco revival ran slightly ahead of the hip version – it wasn’t until 1995 that the much-respected Mastercuts series got around to a Classic Disco Mastercuts, compiled by Dave Lee, AKA Joey Negro, who’d produced “Relight My Fire” for Take That.
Lee’s compilation led off with the original Dan Hartman “Relight”, reunited with its magnificent cosmic-dancefloor intro “Vertigo”. Hartman’s track was never a hit here, so perhaps Lee – having helped cement Take That’s version in people’s minds – wanted to remind them of the original. Which – and this is unfortunate for the boys – is a great deal better. Take That’s record is fine, though, very enjoyable – but though Lulu does her best all the enjoyment is from the song, not the performance. Most disco cover versions by pop bands lack vocal chops, but more, they lack urgency – any sense that something is at stake, that these three, four or nine minutes are the singer’s only chance to get a feeling over, rather than one of many opportunities to put on some glitter and a wig. “Relight My Fire” was a great record – this has no ambition beyond being quite a good one.