The term “boy band” had not yet crept into the public consciousness when Take That released “Back For Good” in the U.S., but that’s not gonna prevent me from stating that the mid ‘90s were not kind to boy bands in America.
Starting with “Please Don’t Go Girl” in the summer of ‘88, New Kids On The Block had a solid 2 ½ year run. Shortly after No More Games/The Remix Album was released in early ‘91, that bubble burst. HARD. There was a bit of a backlash against pop music geared towards teenagers (Debbie Gibson’s and Tiffany’s careers also vaporized around this time), and those teenagers either moved towards more adult-oriented pop artists (like Mariah Carey), rock acts, or more authentic-appearing R&B vocal groups like Boyz II Men, Jodeci and Color Me Badd. They stood atop a huge wave that continued with Shai, Solo, Silk, Intro, II D Extreme, 4.0, H-Town, Portrait, Dru Hill and many, many, MANY more.
Meanwhile, across the pond, boy bands were thriving! East 17, Westlife and Five thrived in the years following NKOTB’s implosion in 1994 (and the New Kids themselves lasted longer as a phenomenon in the U.K. than they did in the U.S.) Even American bands like the Backstreet Boys (whose first single was released two years before their U.S breakthrough) and Michael Jackson’s nephews 3T found better luck in Britain than they did at home.
The UK’s pre-eminent boy band was Take That, a group that enjoyed an insane level of success in the UK (an insane level of success that continues to the present day, I might add.) “Back For Good” was the linchpin in a concerted effort to break those guys in the U.S. It was the perfect song by which to do so. Most of the material performed by those UK groups was hopelessly milquetoast or borderline offensive when it came to cultural appropriation. Take That leaned much further towards the former than the latter. Fortunately, I guess?
“Back For Good” is an impeccably crafted pop song in the way that Air Supply songs are impeccably crafted. Have I mentioned before how much of a soft spot I have for soft rock perfection? I was working at Tower when the U.S. Take That publicity campaign went into full swing, and I somehow wound up with a 4 or 5-song Take That sampler cassette in my possession. Most of the songs on it were good (with the exception of “Babe”, which is horrid), but “Back For Good” stood far outside the pack of those five songs and stands far outside the pack when it comes to Take That’s overall catalog. It’s just a beautiful piece of music (something Boyz II Men recognized, considering they covered “Back For Good” a decade or so later.)
P.S: I got the whole Take That thing for one song at least; I still don’t get the whole Robbie Williams thing (Williams left Take That shortly before “Back For Good” was released in the U.S. and has gone on to become a veritable deity in Britain while being almost completely ignored in the States.) “Millennium” and “Feel” are good songs, and the fact that I’ve enjoyed those songs (and the fact that he’s tremendously popular) have led me to buy several of his albums over the years. Nothing’s really stuck. Well…everything ain’t for everyone. Right?
P.P.S: This video is gay as hell. I mean, I’ve sucked my share of dicks and this video is gayer than I will ever be.
NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…
“Baby, It’s Tonight” by Jude Cole (1990): Muscular, fairly anonymous pop/rock with a killer chorus. What can I say? I have a soft spot for the stuff. He was a handsome fella, too.
“Back And Forth” by Aaliyah (1994): I can’t write anything about Aaliyah’s first album without feeling profoundly icky. Of course, that is due to the extremely dominant presence of R. Kelly on Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. I’ve been having a lengthy internal dialogue on separating an artist from their art, and that dialogue has amplified in the past few weeks. Sigh.
Granted, the lead vocals on “Back & Forth” aren’t performed by R. Kelly, which may help me create a little bit of distance here. But he does shadow Aaliyah’s vocals with his. And he has a rap break in the middle of the song. And he wrote, produced and performed the song. So…I’m gonna just settle the argument in my head (for the moment) and hopefully we can agree (or not) that “Back & Forth” is a great song from the “we’re not new jack swing” anymore era when hip-hop and R&B were just beginning to seamlessly intermingle.