Release Date: Nov 25, 2013
Record label: Polydor
It’s hard to warm to Gary Barlow these days - he’s about as establishment as it’s possible to be, on nodding terms with the Tory top brass, blessed by her Majesty and beatified by X Factor. There’s something intangibly smug about his high-brow hobnobbing and his massive house, so far removed from the chubby Manc everyman struggling to keep up with the dance routines back in the Nineties. That Barlow has made it to the top of the tree is astounding - a decade ago he’d been written off by pretty much everyone, his glow utterly outshone by the blinding ubiquity of Robbie Williams’ success.
Perhaps the title Since I Saw You Last is a winking allusion to the long time between Gary Barlow's solo records: disregarding the 2012 EP Sing, he's been silent since 1999's Twelve Months, Eleven Days, choosing to shelve his solo career when Take That reunited in 2005. At the close of the millennium, Barlow was pursuing the traditional path of a balladeer, taking his cues from George Michael in particular and latter-day Elton John in general. A decade-plus later, he's happy to consider new pop trends only in passing -- "Let Me Go" has a touch of the big folk of the Lumineers and Imagine Dragons; there's just a hint of Coldplay on "God" -- and while away his time making stately, classicist British pop.
As Gary Barlow points out at some length on the title track of his third solo album, things have changed considerably since the release of his second solo album, 1999's Twelve Months, Eleven Days. Then, his post-Take That career seemed to exist largely in order to be publicly mocked by his former bandmate, Robbie Williams. Three months after its release, Barlow no longer had a record deal.
There's something almost awe-inspiring and wonderful in how unassailably uncool Gary Barlow – the Just for Men handsome, blandly genial X Factor judge and second most successful Take That alumnus – remains. Sonic reference points for this, his fourth solo album, include on Let Me Go (no please, really, let me go) banjo-virulent arena folk in the exhausted Mumford vein as well as the tritest and most insipid of musical theatre showtunes. And then there's Small Town Girls, sounding like something dredged out of one of Cliff Richard nadirs, oozing and sticky with its own sentimentality and a chorus of "the foundations of the world are built on small town girls".