Mar 13

TAKE THAT – “Sure”

Popular73 comments • 4,708 views

#711, 15th October 1994

Take-That-Sure-36711 A third album in as many years – for all that they were an honest phenomenon now, for all the still-spiralling popularity, Take That kept their workrate brutally high. Invisiblity is death in pop, and in the pre-net era visibility meant product. Commercially, said product would be as close to a cert as one could want, so even amidst the Stakhanovite grinning and flexing there might be room for experiment. Namely, a seven-minute video to show off the boys’ comedic talents (which proved feeble) and a chance for Gary to do an R&B number.

Alas! R&B and Barlow were uneasy bedfellows. For a few seconds “Sure” keeps its footing, sounds excitingly on-trend even – a confident whomp of a beat with producers Brothers In Rhythm doing a decent Teddy Riley impression. But then comes Gary, whose voice is all wrong for this – too bluff and needy, hectoring where it should plead, plodding where it should cajole. The backing vocalists (“Sure! So Sure!”) carry all the hook – Gary roams aimlessly in between, a street dancer in wellington boots, issuing his list of tedious requirements to a returning honey. “It’s gotta be social, compatible, sexual, irresistible” – is there a less sexual word than “social”, a more resistible one than “compatible”?

Perhaps they felt the need to act grown up – something their next singles would try more convincingly. By this time Take That no longer had the field to themselves – their rivalry, or rather brand differentiation, with East 17 added a necessary twist to the story. But maybe it irked that East 17 were the bad boys, the streetwise boys, the dirty ones. (Their “Deep” is preposterous, but still sexier than this.) Maybe Take That wanted to show they could still play that game, too. But they couldn’t. They made duller singles, but not worse ones.



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  1. 1
    Lazarus on 25 Mar 2013 #

    This was the lead single from the album? Sounds more like a third or fourth. It is a bit laboured isn’t it. I quite liked the “holding squeezing touching teasing” part but that was about all. I agree that Gary’s voice was far from ideal for the song, but I’m not sure that Mark or Robbie would have been any better.

    In boy band terms East 17 were the only serious competition at this stage weren’t they? Second division act Bad Boys Inc had scored their only top 10 hit earlier in the year, while the likes of 911 and Backstreet Boys were still a little way off. There was however, a new entry at number 7 in the second week of Sure’s reign – ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ the biggest hit to date for Oasis.

  2. 2
    Tom on 25 Mar 2013 #

    “This was the lead single from the album? Sounds more like a third or fourth”

    Exactly right, and I was surprised too – this is according to Wiki.

  3. 3
    Cumbrian on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Compare and contrast the sleeve for this single with the sleeve for their last #1. Change is coming. Robbie’s got a skinhead with a slash in it, versus his longer, more overtly “boyband” haircut. Howard has finally been allowed to grow some dreadlocks and a beard. Jason and Mark look less styled than before too. Only Gary is clinging to the old certainties.

    Sure is, I reckon, boring. And if invisibility is death in pop, being boring is going to take you down a similar road in the long run (even the Pet Shop Boys wore gigantic conical hats). If it’s a grab for R&B credibility, it’s a bad one. This is the last of their #1s to try for an overtly American feel, at least to my ear (doubtless I will be disabused of this notion when the spoiler bunnies break out of their respective hutches). At this point, as an age 13 boy, TT were still boring with Sure not helping matters. Soon though, their personalities will start to poke out beyond the photos and they became more interesting as a result. Change is coming and, for Howard, Jason, Mark, Robbie and, even to an extent, Gary, it is to be embraced.

  4. 4
    Chelovek na lune on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Absolutely dreadful: dull, overly laboured, *sweaty* (and in an abjectly unsexy way: in an excess of warm clothing at a bus stop in Romford on a winter evening) and with no hint of what was to come soon from them.

    Was this ever used to advertise the deodorant of the same name? If not…well it still sounds like a 30-second advertising jingle stretched out to make a dire single.

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    Mark G on 25 Mar 2013 #

    It has that insistent ‘noise’ that “Jump Around” House of Pain has, only more politer. A bit like Pat Boone’s version of “Tutti Frutti”…

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    tm on 25 Mar 2013 #

    I can’t even remember this. Like I said on the Everything Changes thread, I had a notion I liked these boys, now I’m not so Sure. (Sorry)

  7. 7
    punctum on 25 Mar 2013 #

    OK, I thought of something to say about this one:

    One of the remarkable trends of the pre-rock singles chart was the manner in which polite British crooners were fashioned to sound as American as possible, manfully (or womanfully) trying to emulate the effortless sophistication of their counterparts on a ration coupon budget with the intent of sounding “international,” even though the States were never likely to embrace a Dickie Valentine or a Michael Holliday when Frank and Bing were still active and hale.

    Some commentators have taken as an indication of coming full circle the equivalent tendency over the last decade or so – effectively kickstarted by Simon Cowell – of current British groups and performers to endeavour to appeal to an assumed international market, and in doing so jettison every facet of them which made them British, and appealing, and therefore different. We need not spend much time turning our eyes away from such calamities as the second Mis-teeq album, or that Mutya Buena solo album where the sparkiest Sugababe was apparently harpooned at bayonet point to do caterwauling Whitney/Marah-style pseudo-soul Mogadon in order to make it in the eyes of a market which in all practical terms no longer exists.

    Although “Sure” seems to have been an earnest attempt by Take That to appeal to the post-New Jack Swing demographic – Gary Barlow co-produced with the Brothers In Rhythm team, and the song bears a rare Barlow/Owen/Williams co-writing credit – it simply doesn’t work. The group’s natural charm and modest determination to be themselves are eroded against bland hotel lobbies of Al Jarreau chord changes, and Barlow’s voice simply isn’t built to curve with the indentures and turnarounds of 1994 R&B patterns; references in the lyric to “positive reactions” and “compatible” sound awkward in both construction and delivery. In contrast, something like East 17’s “Deep,” though in most ways patently absurd, actually does work in terms of Walthamstow roughage roughing it up with a track which very wisely kicks back to preserve both pop and would-be hip hop tendencies; it succeeds precisely because it isn’t in your face. But “Sure” sounded like a shoehorned Take That and unsurprisingly became not only their lowest-selling chart-topper but also the lowest-selling number one of 1994; it’s another one about which I had to remind myself, and I don’t think I missed very much in the forgetting.

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    Tom on 25 Mar 2013 #

    #7 – The “positive reactions” bit is *so* stupendously awkward it’s almost interesting.

  9. 9
    Auntie Beryl on 25 Mar 2013 #

    #1 – a quintet of Irish boys were very close to making their debut and joining the boyband fray in October 1994, and would go on to top the chart six times.

    This is certainly one of the That’s less memorable number ones. It’s unconvincing musically.

  10. 10
    thefatgit on 25 Mar 2013 #

    On the whole, it’s not difficult for me to remember how a particular #1 single goes (until we get to very recently, and then I’ll be in “here be dragons” territory, with a few notable exceptions). On a few occasions, I’ll need a bit of prompting but I can’t recall this as easily as other TT singles (although the “…social, compatible, sexual, irresistible” line does ring a bell). Did Robbie contribute that line? I seem to recall Robbie wanting to shoehorn something of his own into “Sure”, and that particular line does scan like a poorly composed Dateline entry. Barlow’s songwriting isn’t always terrible, but “Sure” is easily forgettable.

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 25 Mar 2013 #

    I remember this coming out, and must have heard it, but it rings no bells, none at all.

    At least the Brothers In Rhythm production means it genuinely swings (unlike many of Gaz Baz’s previous wellington-booted efforts), and the bv’s are a sweet enough hook. But that’s it. 4 is as much as it could hope for.

    Over the weekend we were listening to Now Dance 92, and a Twenty 4 Seven track came on whose hook was similarly slight – we were waiting for a chorus that never came, and realised how strongly Max Martin and Xenomania changed the structure of songwriting a few years later. “Sure so sure” would barely count as a bridge on one of their songs let alone a chorus.

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    swanstep on 25 Mar 2013 #

    This one’s new to me (Take That never did a damn thing either in the US or down under). A boring, unmemorable track on first listen, but I never did acquire much of a taste for ‘new jack swing’.

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    punctum on 25 Mar 2013 #

    #11: Or altered it back to how Bjorn and Benny and Chinnichap had dunnit. Not sure whether anything Stargate or XMania did was an advance as such – other than technologically, in terms of production, etc. – but that’s a question for another Popular time.

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    weej on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Not even a fifth single, more like a cut from the tail end of the album sessions that’s finally made it out as a b-side. Propelled to the top by sheer force of fanbase and a lack of competition for the top spot. It was, however, my flatmate’s favourite TT track in 2000, and he played it whenever he came back from the pub. Loudly.

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    anto on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Rather advert-jingly this one (you can sure-so-sure with Shell maybe?) and not too impressive. Actually the more often Take That appear on Popular the more convinced I am not only that Gary Barlows reputations rests largely on one particular song (which we’ll be coming to in a short while), but also that their present status as the nations best-loved band has been retconned to some degree.
    As I recall it, for all the adualation they were receiving in 1994 plenty of people just found them a bore.

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Having fun trying to imagine Take That or East 17 having recorded ‘I’ve Got A Little Something For You’ instead of M8. Both almost work (but Tony beats Robbie on the rap and Brian beats Gary and Mark on the verses ha).

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    punctum on 25 Mar 2013 #

    What does “retconned” mean?

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    Tom on 25 Mar 2013 #

    It stands for “retrospective continuity” – when a TV series, comic, film series etc rewrites its own history. eg George Lucas going back to Star Wars 20 years later and changing bits. In a sense the streamlining of the whole early history of the charts – the construction of an “official” number one – is a retcon.

    Anto can explain his use of it :) But that’s what it means.

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    wichita lineman on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Re 13: Yes, true enough (Xeno definitely looked back to the RAK set-up, with Brian Higgins as Mickie Most). I was thinking specifically of ‘dance pop’, or post-house pop.

    It’ll be a while before we get there though, so I’ll button up.

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    MikeMCSG on 25 Mar 2013 #

    As someone who was never interested in them – and still isn’t – this one didn’t sound any better or worse than their other efforts.
    I share some of anto’s bemusement at their current status. As we will be discussing soon enough Barlow was a derisory figure at the turn of the millennium appearing on Heartbeat to earn a crust – how did the restoration of a trio of muppets to stand beside him lead to such a rehabilitation ? Obviously there was a genuine thirtysomething fanbase to welcome them back but it’s rare for the critics , most of whom would have spurned them back in the day to fall into line with fan nostalgia.

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    Lazarus on 25 Mar 2013 #

    #9 Yes, of course! I tend to think of them as ‘late nineties’

    #12 They did score a US Top 10 hit in 1995, the timing of their split not to the liking of their US record company, as it was something of a breakthrough there.

  22. 22
    lonepilgrim on 25 Mar 2013 #

    i’ve just listened to this again to try to remind myself what this sounds like and I’ve already forgotten it

  23. 23
    James BC on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Clearly the worst of Take That’s number ones, and a particularly grating instance of their trademark weirdly shrill backing vocals. Amazed it got 4. Not even Lulu bursting in 2/3 of the way through could have saved this one.

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    glue_factory on 25 Mar 2013 #

    I suspect that “The That” were beneficiaries of an increasingly sympathetic critical treatment of pop, during the 90s and 00s, which was then retrospectively applied. I don’t remember media-treatment of them at this time, being anything other than as a teen-band phenomenon.

  25. 25
    Mark G on 25 Mar 2013 #

    It was mainly because they came over well in non_performance TV appearances (mostly thanks to Rob),

  26. 26
    Patrick Mexico on 25 Mar 2013 #

    Welcome back, Tom! Just when I thought you were out, they drag you back in.. ;-)

    3/10 for this – and that’s a generous 3.

    Cookie-cutter New Jack Swing from the cast of “Man Oh Man*.”

    * Simba, you must never go there.

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    will on 26 Mar 2013 #

    Well, at the time I quite liked this. To these ears it felt like a progression and undoubtedly was intended as such, TT showing their rivals that they could ‘do’ sexy too. Does rather pale in comparison to Deep or East 17’s contemporaneous Steam now though doesn’t it?

    Is there a less sexual word than “social”? Yeah, loads! As a socialist who likes being social I happen to think there’s an inherent sexiness to it meself..

  28. 28
    Chelovek na lune on 26 Mar 2013 #

    #27 I’d say “nah” and cite pop music’s Socialist-in-Chief in my defence: “You can be active with the activists, or sleeping with the sleepers, when you’re waiting for the Great Leap Forwards” (and not thinking too hard, if at all, about all the implications and connotations of that last phrase, although this observation didn’t go down well at a Labour Students disco at Warwick Uni Union, not very long after the Berlin Wall came down)

    #20 I really (and quite simply) think it was mostly that at least some of their post-reformation material really was really rather good (and sufficiently different in sound and general tenor from their frankly mostly annoying or insipid earlier material not to recall it overtly if at all). Sure, Williams’s sometimes interesting (and stylistically diverse) solo career may have opened minds towards what talents might have been hiding in those old dire TT records (Barlow’s and Owen’s very much less so). But given that Robbie wasn’t in the band upon their initial return, I really do think it principally came down to the songs and the performance, as well as support from more mature ex-fans. But this is a topic for much later discussions…

  29. 29
    punctum on 26 Mar 2013 #

    Pop music’s Socialist-in-Chief who promotes dodgy characters like Michelle-Shocked and Frank Turner. Wish Bill would choose his musical pals more carefully.

  30. 30
    wichita lineman on 26 Mar 2013 #

    TT were likeable, they had distinct personalities, and as such were the first ‘boy band’ since the Monkees you could say that about. Osmonds, Rollers, Bros, NKOTB were all of a piece, with the occasional ‘bad boy’ (Wahlberg) or ‘extra cute one’ (Donny) or ‘not cute one’ (“Ken”, Derek, Merrill).

    For this reason I think people were willing TT to make better records. And some – suspending belief further – were willing Gary B to be the next Elton John, or at least George Michael, when they split. But that’s a little way off.

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