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Jun 13

TAKE THAT – “Never Forget”

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#724, 5th August 1995

never I’m a sucker for a self-conscious farewell. I bought final issues of comics I’d never prevoiously read. My best Doctor Who memories were the regenerations. As a student, my favourite Shakespeare was The Tempest. And look! Here’s Gary Barlow as Prospero, drowning his songbook, letting Caliban free to hang out with Oasis at Glasto, moving on and leaving behind him maybe the most self-important single a boyband has ever produced.

It ought to be terrible. Perhaps it is. It’s hubristic enough to write about how you “looked each day and night in the eye” without hauling on a cherub to sing it. “We’re still so young, and we hope for more” – stay tuned for the solo careers, kids! “With danger on my mind I would stand on the line of hope and I knew I could make it”: wait, what? Now, probably “Never Forget” was written before the split became obvious – though it was surely on the wind – so these abstractions were just pseudo-profound horseshit from a songwriter groping tragically for meaning. By the time it actually reached us, though, it was retooled by the video-makers, marketers and Jim Steinman into “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” meets Gary Barlow Superstar. (And wouldn’t Robbie make a great Judas?)

But, slapdash and grotesque though it is, I like it. I’d happily call it their best single if it wasn’t for all the really terrible bits (The whole “invincible” bit, for a start). Why?

First, though this isn’t actually their final single, overdramatising a split is probably what the fans need and deserve. No hollow thanks and mutterings about really special plans for the future from men who are clearly hating every second of the job they’re quitting. To the fans – these fans of this band especially – a split was armageddon, or at least to be played as it. Take those feelings seriously – give the fans some catharsis! “Never Forget” does this, and then some.

Second, the combination of Barlow, Steinman and Brothers In Rhythm makes “Never Forget” a single that sounds like very little else. We’re about to enter a dark time in which “epic” in British pop is going to be codified in terms of string sections, stately plods, and pained rock vocals. Here is a parallel vision for bigness in pop: gospel choirs and boyband harmonies, stadium rock choruses emerging out of elephant-legged R&B. It’s blowsy, absurd, and unsustainable but glorious when it works – when the chorus hits you can see the fireworks shooting up from the stage.

Finally – and this is the important bit – the whole teetering folly of “Never Forget” is just a delivery system for Gary’s probably finest, and certainly wisest chorus. “Never forget where you’ve come in from / Never pretend that it’s all real / Someday soon this will all be someone else’s dream”. This is really good, grounded advice, not just as a pop fame survival guide, but as a way of staying level-headed about the transient things in life. It’s rare for a group to realise their moment has passed, rarer for them to acknowledge it, and in this chorus Take That are singing not just about themselves, but about their fans, and about fandom and youth.

Researching this song I watched its home-movies clipshow video on YouTube – a visual farewell tour, not an uncommon gambit since splitting bands become harder to convene for video shoots. Below it though were a surprising number of comments from kids, who had turned the song into school leaving videos – some secondary, most primary. They weren’t posting the videos themselves (thankfully) but I was surprised how moving I found the idea of it – 11 and 12 year olds taking this song, an oldie for them, and turning the self-mythologising into something they could use to navigate their own life changes. We all want to turn our lives into stories – “Never Forget” is a song about exactly that, and works as both a tool for doing it and a warning of the consequences.

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Comments

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  1. 51

    The entire subterranean history of London club-based music from Ken Colyer across to Alexis Korner is a blizzard of mutual disaffection, really. Everyone thought everyone else was playing the wrong sort of something.

  2. 52
    punctum on 4 Jul 2013 #

    That reminds me, I’m supposed to be writing a book on this very subject (not pop stars jumping ship but the strangely logical anti-nexus of Brit blues boom, free jazz and psychedelia).

  3. 53

    Clapton is a 6 on the Pete Frame Valency Index, beating John Mayall, Mick Taylor and John Wetton, who are all 5s. (I took literally 20 seconds to “research” this, so the reported data may be shakier than the underlying science.)

    PFVI = the number of different pages/family trees a family member appears on

    That book sounds awesome, punctum!

  4. 54
    Rory on 4 Jul 2013 #

    No worries, Tom – it’s been great to see the flurry of activity around here lately. I feel all Popular-ly reinvigorated. If I can get O2 in Shetland I’ll try and post a comment from my phone.

    Mind you, my comment on it is only a few paragraphs long… the other recent threads used up some of what I might have said.

    By the way, it’s a 4 for “Never Forget” from me. Take that, Take That!

  5. 55
    swanstep on 5 Jul 2013 #

    @46, Lonepilgrim. Arthur Sullivan spent most of the 1880s trying to ditch Gilbert and Comic Opera (esp. after being knighted for his more hifalutin’ stuff). A right Gabriel, Sylvian, Albarn he was.

  6. 56
    AMZ1981 on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Never Forget was the third (and final) single from the Nobody Else album and the only one to be released (albeit it remixed form) after the album’s release. Nobody Else, with the exception of two songs (Back For Good and an oddly haunting acoustic piece sung by Mark Owen) is an album of two halves. One half is of `Sures`, soul influenced upbeat numbers that have dated hideously and a second half of `Never Forgets`; ridiculous earnest Gary Barlow solo numbers aimed at proving he was a serious artist – the title track is exceptionally hideous. In the CD booklet Barlow has a full page photograph while the rest of the band get quarter of a page each. Given that it was Mark and Robbie the girls still wanted this is telling – Nobody Else is virtually a solo album.

    There was a script here. Gary Barlow was set to `do a George Michael` and outgrow his pop roots to become a solo superstar. Except – it all went wrong. The first mistake was that the other four Take Thatters were not Andrew Ridgely; Orange and Donald were relatively disposable but Mark Owen was the pin up and Williams the best voice.

    The second mistake, which Barlow’s camp could not have forseen but which they reacted to badly, was that the musical scene was changing. Gary Barlow had a seat marked at the same table as Elton John, Phil Collins and Sting and the rock world would shortly reject these dinosaurs for a new breed of Gallaghers, Albarns and Cockers. At the same time (as this blog will soon show) the world of pop moved away from earnest hearthrobs like Barlow to brazen, tabloid baiting superstars (it’s pretty obvious which girl band I have in mind here). It’s worth noting that Robbie Williams would owe a lot of his subsequent success to the fact he could straddle both camps. For Gary Barlow matters would be made worse by the fact that, by the time he finally divorced his pop band and was in a position to do a George Michael, George himself had returned with what (for me anyway) was his strongest collection of songs.

    A final point, while Never Forget was at number one Boyzone spent two weeks at number three with So Good. It was not the first time Take That and Boyzone had been in the top five simultaneously, nor would it be the last.

  7. 57
    ciaran on 18 Jul 2013 #

    A kind of no more worlds to conquer feel to this.Though the signs of the end had probably begun with the success of Back For Good.

    I liked it in 95 but now its a bit of a chore to listen to outside of the chrous.It doesnt stand up as well as BFG now.

    5

  8. 58
    Erithian on 15 Sep 2013 #

    They throw a lot at this, don’t they? Including, inexplicably, Howard. Sadly the effect is to leave you listening to the straining verses and having your mind wander to how much better it might have sounded if they’d given it to Robbie, who really stands out in the bridge. But the chorus of course is mega.

    Just before this review was posted I was at the year 6 leavers’ performance at my boys’ primary school, and this was the last number. You’re right, this is where it comes into its own as a tearjerker, and not just for the parents – there were a few dabbed eyes among the children too.

  9. 59
    mrdiscopop on 23 Oct 2014 #

    This is a karaoke killer. Everyone assumes it’ll be a knees-up singalong – and it is, but only once every 90 seconds. The problem is those meandering verses, dragging their feet like a schoolkid on the first day of term. Someone like Elton might be able to sell the melody by force of personality alone, but poor old Howard (and our karaoke troop) will never manage it. The chorus gets a 7, the rest of it a poor 4.

    Interestingly, the album version is a lot better, losing the ridiculous choirboy intro and – more importantly – allowing Robbie to vamp all over the coda. Some of his ad-libs are kept for the single edit (which, confusingly, is longer) but they are poor facsimiles, sung by the rest of the band with much less vigor or personality. The group was truly over the day he got his marching orders.

  10. 60
    Musicality on 14 Dec 2014 #

    This was a great song very epic and full on with a nice message to it. Epic and a worldwide hit following on from the global chart topper Back For Good. Different and unique from a boyband doing something a bit different in sound and length.

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