Seven years and two days – it feels like ages since Gary Barlow released his last solo album. On 27th November 2020, he released his fifth long-player, Music Played by Humans. The album is a big band album, which also touches other genres, especially in collaboration with other musicians. Here are my thoughts about it.
Gary Barlow – About The Artist
Gary Barlow was born on 20th January 1971 in Frodsham, South of Liverpool. He names Depeche Mode and Elton John as his musical inspiration during youth. At the age of 15 years, he reached the semi final in a BBC talent show, Pebble Mill at One. In the late 1989, Nigel Martin-Smith wanted to create a British male vocal singing group, inspired by New Kids on the Block. This lead to Take That in the original formation with Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams. Even though Williams was the biggest entertainer of the band, Barlow wrote most of the songs and thus is widely regarded as the lead singer of the band.
With the split of Take That, Barlow concentrated on his solo career again. In 1997, he released his debut album Open Road, which topped the UK album charts and contained two chart-topping singles in his home country, Forever Love and Love Won’t Wait. The second album Twelve Months, Eleven Days (1999) could almost be seen as a flop – the peak positions were just #35 (UK) and #19 (Ireland). The single Sing brought Barlow back to the top of the charts, the equivalently-named album also topped the UK album charts. Barlow’s last album release was Since I Saw You Last, published in November 2013. The album was very successful again, achieving double platinum status in the UK.
Gary Barlow – Music Played by Humans – Track by Track
There is a standard and a deluxe version of the album. The deluxe version includes 19 tracks and lasts 69 minutes. The standard version is just containing the first 14 tracks.
1. Who’s Driving This Thing
The album starts with a surprise: you first hear some musicians / instruments warming up, then Gary Barlow is introducing the album like a speaker – and after this introduction, Who’s Driving This Thing becomes a powerful swing track with a big touch of rock’n’roll. Such a happy sound in which Barlow is also interacting with the band.
On a wing and a prayer – Yes we are
Are we happy back there? – Yes we are
Are we worse for wear? – Yes we are
Does anybody care? – No
I did not read too much about the album and its concept before. I did not expect that – but I loved it from the very beginning.
‘Cause it’s incredible, absolutely unforgettable
People say it’s only chemical, but it can’t be
It’s incredible what you’re doing to me
If I say it all, every word and every syllable
Put you high up on a pedestal, then you’ll see
It’s incredible what you’re doing to me
Incredible what you’re doing to me
Another track with big band sounds. Barlow just does this kind of music in great style – and with a lot of speed. Incredible is such an uptempo, happy sound track.
3. Elita (feat. Michael Buble, Sebastian Yatra)
Elita is a track recorded with Michael Buble and Columbian singer-songwriter Sebastian Yatra. The song is a lovely Latin American track and spreads a lot of energy and sunshine. Simply salsa. Wow!
4. The Big Bass Drum
And the big bass drum goes boom, boom, boom
And the big bass drum goes bang, bang, bang
The cutest smile, the softest lips
The longest legs, the highest kicks
When the big bass drum goes boom, boom, bang, bang, bang
It sounds like this
It sounds like this
Back to Big Band sounds. Again, the sound of the track is energetic, the song catches you and makes you smile. Gary Barlow is just illustrating in these first four tracks already how gifted he is.
5. This Is My Time
Barlow is now on the piano with some instruments in the background. The result is a beautiful ballad.
6. Enough Is Enough (feat. Beverley Knight)
British artist Beverly Knight is the next guest on this album (who also joined Roachford on his latest Twice in a Lifetime album). Not too surprisingly, Enough Is Enough is thus heading towards R&B sounds at the finest level, driving by the sound of classic instruments. The sound feels so traditional, but also so modern – cool!
7. Bad Libran
Long before dating sites
Helped mankind find love
Matchmakers existed high above
Forces far superior
Knew our hearts’ criteria
Constellations sent down their decree
Girls who might like me, like me, like
This very entertaining and easy-sounding track gives a lovely travel through the world of astrology. The album has already caught me – I am in love. No matter which sign Barlow is (in fact he is Capricorn, not Libran…).
8. Eleven (feat. Ibrahim Maalouf)
Ibrahim Maalouf is a French-Libanese musician. Maalouf is an instrumentalist (piano and trumpet). Eleven is rhythmic pop track. Definitely a nice one.
9. Before We Get Too Old (feat. Avishai Cohen)
Let’s fall in love
Before we get too old
Ignoring all the reasons not to
No long term plans
Just be Peter Pans
Hang onto my hand and hold
Now, before we get too old
This love, this love is supernatural – this is one of my very favorite tracks of the album (I cannot say that I dislike one so far, though…). It that nicely illustrates how wonderful Barlow uses the orchestra, the lyrics, rhythm to create a powerful, uptempo sound. Simply catching.
11. Oh What A Day (feat. Chilly Gonzales)
Chilly Gonzales (or, civil name, Jason Charles Beck) is a Canadian jazz piano player, who is originally from Montreal, but now living in Cologne. Though the song is musically a nice one and Gonzales is definitely adding a lot of character with his piano play, this is the first song on the album which is less catching to me.
12. What Leaving’s All About (feat. Alesha Dixon)
The next musician to join Barlow is Alesha Dixon, a British pop music artist and winner of the 2007 version of Strictly Come Dancing. The sound of this song is suprisingly modern – which in this case mainly means that the traditional big band instrumentation is partially significantly less present than in the tracks before. To me, it thus feels a bit like a departure from the concept of the album so far.
13. The Kind Of Friend I Need (feat. James Corden)
Alongside British multi-talented entertainer (who even had a Number 1 hit in the UK in 2010), The Kind Of Friend I Need is definitely going back to the Big Band sound. The song is about friendship – not too surprising – and it is a good one.
Always criticizes the way that you drive
But is alive to the way that you feel
And if your head’s in your hands, takes over the wheel
Defend me and upend me
That’s the kind of friend that I need
That’s the kinda of friend that I need
14. I Didn’t See That Coming
For standard album buyers / consumers, I Didn’t See That Coming is already the great finale. The song is an intimate, retrospective looking piano back about all the things in life what happened – and which you simply did not see coming. It does not create an atmosphere which is as intense as the ones created by other songs.
15. Let’s Get Drunk
There is still Big Band sound in this first track of the deluxe material, but the song is surprisingly pop-ish. Hard to find a dancefloor currently which allows you to dance to that beat. Average song with a catching dance attitude.
16. The Day The World Stopped Turning
The Day The World Stopped Turning is a breakup song. Not a bad song at all, but the album was much stronger at its beginning. The melodic part by a full orchestra sounds nice, though.
17. You Make The Sun Shine (feat. Barry Manilow)
The album’s final guest is nobody but Barry Manilow. Musically, there are unfortunately some clouds in the sky.
18. Incredible (Acoustic)
So far, the deluxe album just feels worth buying if you like the alcoholic party tune Let’s Get Drunk. Two special versions of the first single Incredible have limited potential to me to change that. The acoustic version has a nice touch – but I feel that the original version is way better.
19. Incredible (F9 Charleston Remix)
Second try: now Barlow does Incredible in a Charleston style. It is an interesting music experiment – which finally completely fails in my point of view, when Barlow is adding hip hop elements to it. You are wise if you listen to Barlow carefully and got drunk four tracks earlier.
Gary Barlow – Music Played by Humans – Spotify
Here is the Spotify widget for Music Played by Humans:
Gary Barlow – Music Played by Humans – My View
I love Gary Barlow and his music – and after the first hand full of songs, I really felt that this album could become one of the best of the albums of the year. But finally it is a bit like your first marathon run if you only trained 10kms before – times are getting rather tough the closer you approach the finish line. It’s really a shame that Barlow could not keep up the good spirit. As the five bonus tracks are not that strong (Let’s Get Drunk is the only song which has a touch to me), you can safe the extra money for the deluxe version, indeed.
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