Album: Take That, The Circus (Polydor)

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The Independent Culture

Though far from a household name, John Shanks is the producer whose touch defines the sound of American chart pop across the spectrum from teen fodder like Ashlee Simpson and Backstreet Boys to AOR stalwarts Santana and Sheryl Crow – the latter acclaiming his ability to "make stuff sound like it belongs on the radio".

But even a genius needs something to work with, and on this second collaboration with the reformed Take That Shanks is dealing with fluff and nonsense (and Gary Barlow and Mark Owen), reduced to applying his trademark power-ballad arrangements to some of the worst lyrics ever written. Lines like "If love is a game, I'm playing all my cards" and "Why why why do you cry cry cry?" are poor enough, but by no means as bad as when Owen tries to illustrate how hard the world can be with the example of a girl who can't decide which dress to wear. "How did it come to this?" he wonders. Barlow is more assured, claiming in his Edenic survey of war and peace "The Garden" that "We're just miracles of matter"; but he too can't spot a cliché like without stepping eagerly into it. Musically it's no better, stuffed with bland ballads alleviated only by a couple of bouts of sub-Beatles cornball populism that hanker back to Fifties notions of all-round entertainment. Though not around here.

Download this: 'The Garden', 'You'