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Dec 13

GARY BARLOW – “Forever Love”

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#742, 20th July 1996

Gary_barlow_forever One of the advantages of having this project take far longer than imagined is that I get to see the reputations of artists tilt and upend as the years go by. At the point where I began writing, when the Take That story was, essentially, the Robbie Williams story, “Forever Love” was pop’s most pyrrhic No.1. Gary Barlow – pop’s great white Ivor-Novello-garlanded hope – achieves his apex moment without realising how deeply pop had changed around him, and his legacy is washed away. Listen to my works, ye mighty, and despair. Or maybe just doze off.

Times and reputations change, and Barlow was more resilient and canny than I gave him credit for. But “Forever Love” does not change – it’s as tedious and cautious as ever. Gary Barlow at this point had the attention of the music world, full credit for his band’s success, a ready-made fanbase, and what he gave us was… this. The safest, most defensive solo artist play possible. Predictable enough to release a ballad, but who expected such a dishrag of one?

Great ballads – and decent facsimiles of same, like “Back For Good” – often reach that greatness by bringing to intense life an emotionally specific situation. Conversely, it’s hard to work out what’s going on in “Forever Love”, and the pace is so sluggish it’s harder to care. Barlow at first seems to be getting his Elton on, playing the wounded man emoting at the piano. But he also appears convinced he’s written an epic, and slathers the song in unearned pomp, throwing in pauses and crescendos and wordless breaks – that’s what great songwriters do, right? His voice can’t do what he needs it to – the final lurch into falsetto is ghastly – but the song is a baggy lump in any case.

With hindsight, Gary’s main error was one of timing: peek ahead a few years and we’ll see a band conquer the country with a run of lardy heart-tuggers that might make Barlow proud. But 1996 had seen pop embrace different virtues – Number Ones that were aggressive, modern and populist, if rarely all at once. What “Forever Love” – the most irrelevant No.1 of the 90s so far – showed was that Gary Barlow was lost in this world. In the immediate fight for Take That’s legacy, Robbie’s first solo single – “Freedom” – was a month off release, but he’d already won.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    fivelongdays on 6 Jan 2014 #

    I listened to this again for the first time since I was 14. And I can’t remember anything about it two minutes after listening to it. It’s just…nothing.

    2.

  2. 52
    EndlessWindow on 7 Jan 2014 #

    Whoever mentioned that this sounds like it could have been written by any one of thousands of unknown singer-songwriters the country over, tae a bow, because you’ve got this one spot on.

    That Ivor Novello clearly went to his head, because this is utterly dreary, uninspired stuff: constantly reaching for something profound, in the firm belief that it surely must get there, that it’s earnt some gravitas just by virtue of turning up and pulling the right mopey face, but instead it just clutched at fistfuls of air. A song that says nothing, in slow motion.

  3. 53
    Rory on 7 Jan 2014 #

    Ye gods, this is awful.

  4. 54
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2014 #

    It’s like “Jesus to a child” as “Every loser wins” is like “The winner takes it all”

  5. 55
    iconoclast on 7 Jan 2014 #

    I still can’t bring myself to want to listen to it, not after all the, er, adverse comments.

  6. 56
    hardtogethits on 9 Jan 2014 #

    Mark G I think that’s perhaps true in terms of quality, but I was making the point about influence. Although I’m postulating about Gary Barlow looking to JTAC specifically, he really was taking his cues from George Michael in a very structured way at this point – including by using his former producer.

  7. 57
    hardtogethits on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Additional chart fact (that I’d forgotten). This was the first single in UK chart history to debut at #1 and fall out of the top 2 in its second week.

  8. 58
    mapman132 on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #57 What was the first single to debut at #1 and fall to #2 the following week? Is there a definitive list somewhere of which singles debuted at #1 (I know there’s a lot of them)?

  9. 59
    Speedwell54 on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I think ‘Innuendo” by Queen is the answer to your first question. That info is just from my records, but I can’t think of an earlier one.

    There is a list in the back of one/some of the ‘Guinness Book of Hit Singles’ (Volume 7 for certain ) This is now 25+ years out of date, but maybe a starting point.

  10. 60
    hardtogethits on 16 Jan 2014 #

    #58, 59. It was Let’s Party by Jive Bunny!

    Innuendo first #1 to spend only 2 weeks in the Top 10.

  11. 61
    iconoclast on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Heartfelt, sincere, tasteful, and almost totally bereft of merit, a nothing of a song. Thankfully not actually offensive too. THREE.

  12. 62
    mapman132 on 17 Jan 2014 #

    #60 For some reason, I thought “Desire” by U2 had debuted at #1, but a look in the official chart archives confirms not. So Jive Bunny it is! Thanks!

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