Gary Barlow has his paws in some of the best pop music in the two decades or so, but sad to say, he still hasn’t mastered the art of being a charismatic performer. His best music was with Take That, especially Patience and Pretty Things (that are not on this album, just to make that clear), but it remains a puzzle in many ways why those songs work while songs performed by Gary Barlow, by himself, tend to go in one ear and out the next.
I think I know. He’s like that earnest class brain that nobody likes because he just tries so hard to be the best that he exudes this cold, distant vibe that keeps people away. During the early days of Take That when they were rolling around near-naked in jello, Mr Barlow stood out like a sore thumb: an out of place earnest guy that seemed to be there only because he was paying his dues and hoping that this undignified gig would soon lead to better ones. He is always so serious, so humorless, so much so that his music comes off as calculated.
This is evident even in Music Played by Humans, his first solo album in a long while. This one has songs that has a wide range of influences, from jazz to bossa nova to blues, complete with an 80-piece orchestra in the background, and if that isn’t enough, he has managed to get an array of guest performers such as Michael Bublé, Barry Manilow, Alesha Dixon, Beverley Knight, James Corden, and more. So what can go wrong?
The songs feel contrived and cold, devoid of anything resembling genuine emotion and passion on Mr Barlow’s part. Whether it’s the Copacabana-like Elita or his duet with Beverley Knight, Enough Is Enough, which sounds so good on Ms Knight’s part, these songs feel like they were created to show Mr Barlow’s musical chops than to entertain me. This is probably isn’t his intention, and he may genuinely be that guy that wears a lamp over his head and dries hump poor Aunt Edna when he was drunk at the party, but on this album, just like it was on his previous albums, the songs here feel subdued, propped-up, and just not fun.
Poor Mr Barlow continues to be dogged by the moments of greatness he displayed on music that he wrote for and performed with other people. This is really one man living in the shadow of his own self. Do I know how he can break out of this pattern? Sadly, I don’t, but on the bright side, I will always have Patience.