There is a strong possibility that Gary Barlow’s status as a judge on ‘The X Factor’ every weekend could prove detrimental to his solo singing career. Gazza’s monotonous musical musings and incurable conservatism (of both the upper- and lower-case varieties) serve as constant reminders that he ain’t exactly rock ’n’ roll. His chops as a hitmaker have never been in question, but when he goes it alone here, on his first solo album since 1999, it’s hard not to think of that elusive X-factor that he’s purportedly searching for in others on a weekly basis. Could it be that Barlow may not be quite fit to judge?
Throughout ‘Since I Saw You Last’ there are clues that Barlow is taking notes from Britain’s pop success stories, old and new. Opener ‘Requiem’ has more than a hint of Sgt Pepper-era Macca
; a mid-record lull comes courtesy of Sir Cliff; and in the more up-to-date moments of ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘This House’ there’s a strong whiff of Mumford. The difficulty lies in Barlow’s too finely honed skills as a musical chameleon: despite its presence on a gamut of hits from the last 20 years, his voice is entirely anonymous. This leaves us feeling slightly like we’re being serenaded by a well-suited mortgage advisor.
The eagerly-awaited Elton John
duet, ‘Face to Face’, is an all-Elton disco number, and whilst it offers a welcome injection of spangly fun in a largely buttoned-up album, it also serves as a reminder that Gazza lacks even a hint of Elton’s idiosyncratic flair. The high points of ‘Since I Saw You Last’ affirm Barlow’s status as a deft crowd pleaser: ‘God’ could be the closing number in a hit West End show, while ‘More Than Life’ displays the rousing joy of some of Take That’s recent hits. But even in the album’s more exciting moments, Gary sounds a little lonely. It’s hard not to yearn for the ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s of Robbie
and the gang.
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