When the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition after the May 2010 general election in the U.K., there were plenty who said it could never last. Six months on and former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major reckons the parties should stick together at the next election.
It has a parallel of sorts in the U.K. music biz where this year Robbie Williams and Take That overcame any enmity and recorded and released their first album together since 1995. In two weeks "Progress" (Polydor) has sold around 726,000 copies in the U.K. according to the Official Charts Company (OCC). The OCC said it is on course to be No. 1 for a third week on Sunday (Dec. 5).
At this rate it will have sold a million copies by mid-December. In October the band's spring/summer 2011 stadium tour sold a million tickets in a day according to promoter SJM. And as an unexpected bonus, the album's also had incredibly strong reviews.
So why not make this reunion permanent?
Like the political situation, it is officially for a set time limit: Williams is supposed to be resuming his solo career after a year of touring and promotion with Take That. But if it continues to work for everyone involved, it's hard to see why he would rush back to a solo career any time soon.
"Obviously, Robbie was doing incredibly well and equally within the four of them it was exceptional in terms of what they were achieving so it was a difficult decision," Universal Music U.K. chairman and CEO David Joseph tells Billboard.biz of their rapprochement. "They based it on what was happening in the studio. So they're beyond proud of the record that they've recorded. I haven't seen them more excited. It feels like they've grown to this band that they have always wanted to be, so the reviews coupled with the tickets and the [album] sales have put them in an incredibly confident place."
"You could tell from what was happening in the studio that it was an important record," he adds. "Just in terms of the way they were writing, the choice of producer they were working with [Stuart Price]. They just decided to push some boundaries on it, but at the heart have the strong song structures and the top line melody that they were associated with."
Joseph believes the story of the band is a big part of the success along with the quality of the album.
"It's not always the case that when you put something that's incredibly successful with something that's successful that it always becomes successful," he says. "The heart of it has to be a great record. It's not everyday you have stories of them being re-united following the very public fall-out of Robbie and Gary [Barlow] so it had all the elements of an Aaron Sorkin-written drama with a great record in the middle."
The reaction at retail has certainly been emphatic.
"I already see the audience broadening and more importantly now that they've pushed the musical boundaries on this, I feel incredible energy and excitement as to what the next step will be," says Joseph. "I can see their creative minds starting thinking and talking about that already."
Asked if that means Williams will stay in the group and they will record more material, Joseph comments: "That's totally up to them. They've committed to one another on this record, they've committed on the tour. That will totally be a decision down to the five of them. For me there's nothing better than seeing them all together now but that will be a very personal decision quite frankly as to what they want to do creatively. I'd hope so though because this feels very comfortable and it's working."
If Take That can capture the album with a spectacular live show, then the former boy band can surely maintain their momentum for the rest of 2011.
But Williams is a hugely successful solo artist, while Take That has proved they can prosper without him (they reformed and released two albums as a four-piece before Williams returned). Williams' last Virgin/EMI studio album "Reality Killed the Video Star" has sold a million in the U.K. according to the label. But the October release of "In and Out of Consciousness: Greatest Hits 1990-2010" is the last album of his current EMI contract, so there is no major label breathing down his neck.
"We're not really involved in negotiations with anybody at the moment, we're allowing Rob to enjoy his period with Take That," says Robbie Williams' manager Tim Clark, director of ie: music. "At some point next year we'll start to engage with people."
Of the situation at Williams' long-term label home EMI, Clark comments, "I can't imagine that this uncertainty will be allowed to go on. Citi and Terra Firma will try and sort something out, it would be absolutely mad not to.
"But we clearly want to have some clarity on this, whichever way it's going. If we're to be engaged in a conversation, we obviously want to know what the future holds. [EMI Group CEO] Roger Faxon says there will be certainty but we need to know. I hope the situation is resolved and EMI is allowed to continue as they've been doing for the past couple of years. We can't fault them for the work they've done on Robbie Williams, both for last year's album and the greatest hits."
The greatest hits set is currently at No. 15 and certified for shipments of 300,000. But even for a pop singer who titled his 1999 U.S. album "The Ego Has Landed" (Capitol), Williams would surely prefer to stick with the pop coalition he's formed with his old band mates and enjoy even bigger sales.