Sometimes, even the most hardened doubters of Gary Barlow’s MOR entertainer schtick have had to concede that he can write ’em. Cynics can relax, though, because no such concessions are required for his first solo album since 1999, which falls below Barlow’s best – “Patience”, “Rule the World” – at just the point when he needed to up his game.
Conservative songwriters rarely evolve, of course, but with Take That paused after Robbie’s top-that return, Barlow needed to show some ambition. Alas, good old Gary’s safety-first slump into a ballad-ageddon of platitudes is even cheesier than his eyebrow-and-stubble sex-face on the tastefully black-and-white sleeve.
The Robbie co-write “Requiem” is jaunty enough, but “Let Me Go” manages to make Mumford and Sons’ influence sound even more anodyne than expected. Elsewhere, Barlow advises variants on “Throw caution to the wind”, rum talk from a man whose idea of “risk” is getting Elton John to guest-bark on “Face to Face”. Or Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley to co-write “Jump”, which outranks Coldplay’s “Fix You” for hollow stadium sentiments.
The bathos overwhelms. “I’ve travelled 6,000 miles, 40,000ft just to see you,” Barlow croons on “6th Avenue”, then kills the effect with: “Where is the danger, I have my return ticket ready”. In “This House”, he builds on home-based banalities (“Stuff needs fixing”) with an itemisation of bricks and mortar like pop’s own estate agent.
The anti-climax is “More Than Life”, where he compares love to “the oldest chair that’s so comfortable”. And, effectively, sums up where his creative butt is parked.