After the release and subsequent failure of Gary Barlow’s second album Twelve Months, Eleven Days in 1999, it would have taken a very gifted soothsayer to predict how much things would change by the singer’s third solo release. Fifteen years ago, he was struggling with his post-Take That career (which had started promisingly with the successful Open Road in 1997), straining under Robbie Williams’ shadow, and recouping after parting ways with his record company. A decade and a half later, he has not only spearheaded Take That’s very successful renaissance, made up with Robbie, occupied a seat at The X Factor UK judging table for three series, organized Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, and been appointed as an OBE for his services to music and charity, but has also established himself as one of the most successful British songwriters of all time.
So it is at a career high that Gary Barlow has released his third solo full length album, Since I Saw You Last, a set of 12 tracks, all written or co-written by the singer himself. A few high profile contributors are on hand to shape some of the songs, and you can hear their influence on the tracks that they have helped create. Album opener ‘Requiem’ has been co-penned by Robbie, and its cheeky lyrics bear his trademark snark; the song could easily have been at home on a Take That album. Tim Rice-Oxley has helped write ‘Jump’, an uplifting song about taking a risk that is reminiscent of Keane’s sound. And Elton John has contributed vocals to the lively ‘Face to Face’, which ends up sounding like an Elton John song featuring Gary Barlow instead of the other way round.
Elsewhere, the folk pop of first single ‘Let Me Go’ is pleasant enough despite the fact that this sound has already been made tiresome by Mumford and co. The banjo also returns later in the album on ‘This House’. The intimate piano ballad ‘Dying Inside’ sees the singer exude emotions. And the jaunty ‘Small Town Girls’ sounds pretty as long as you don’t start dissecting the lyrics, which just seem oddly condescending.
Since I Saw You Last has some lovely tunes, warm sentiments, and the occasional amusing lyric, but it doesn’t really stray too far from Gary’s established brand of competent, mainstream pop. The ballads, though clearly heartfelt, are sometimes too bland and middle of the road, and overall the record doesn’t really display a sense of adventure. Perhaps Gary is playing it too safe here and making a simple, inoffensive album instead of trying something different and less commercial. And it’s hard not to miss the absence of the other Take That members, who could have helped add more flavor to the set and make it more interesting.
On the whole, Since I Saw You Last is a solid pop album that features some well crafted songs that his core fan base are very likely to enjoy, but it isn’t expansive or exceptional enough to widen his fan base or win over his detractors.