Gary Barlow

Since I Saw You Last

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Perhaps the title Since I Saw You Last is a winking allusion to the long time between Gary Barlow's solo records: disregarding the 2012 EP Sing, he's been silent since 1999's Twelve Months, Eleven Days, choosing to shelve his solo career when Take That reunited in 2005. At the close of the millennium, Barlow was pursuing the traditional path of a balladeer, taking his cues from George Michael in particular and latter-day Elton John in general. A decade-plus later, he's happy to consider new pop trends only in passing -- "Let Me Go" has a touch of the big folk of the Lumineers and Imagine Dragons; there's just a hint of Coldplay on "God" -- and while away his time making stately, classicist British pop. Here, the Beatles -- specifically Paul, but with a bit of John -- and early Elton provide the template and, filtered through Barlow's exacting craft and resolutely middlebrow taste, he winds up with a handsome album that sounds a bit like a good early Leo Sayer LP. This isn't meant as a dismissal: Barlow has a knack for mildly ambitious piano ballads that gain strength from their hazily arty design as well as his studied melodicism. This, almost more than John's 2013 The Diving Board, captures what was good about post-McCartney pop singer/songwriters in the mid-'70s, when the best songsmiths never let their ambitions get in the way of a good tune.

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