Dec 13

GARY BARLOW – “Forever Love”

Popular68 comments • 7,171 views

#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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  1. 31
    Ed on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Having been out of Britain for a few years, and being back (although not for good) on New Year’s Eve, I was amazed to discover that Barlow is now not just pop royalty, but some kind of god-emperor. That NYE special really looked as though he needed someone behind him murmuring “remember you too are mortal”.

    How and when did this happen? And why?

  2. 32
    AMZ1981 on 2 Jan 2014 #

    With regard to the guessing game there is one record coming up that I suspect is heading for a low mark – and I’m quite looking forward to defending it.

  3. 33
    Kinitawowi on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Not quite utterly inoffensive enough to actually be offensive. Dull, utterly forgettable (but then so was most of Barlow – I thought his solo career started with Open Road, to be honest), with no features, redeeming or otherwise. No reason to like it, no reason to hate it, no reason to care about it at all. Usually that’s a recipe for a 1 on my criteria (it has to actively offend me in some way to get a 0), but on the Popular scale I think I can stretch to a 2. But it’s a big stretch.

  4. 34
    punctum on 2 Jan 2014 #

    #31: The puzzlement is why the BBC allowed GB an hour’s worth of free advertising for his new album on NYE.

  5. 35
    Cumbrian on 2 Jan 2014 #

    It’s not quite a 1 for me. The piano to start had promise, which means I found one slight redeeming feature to lift it to 2. The rest of it is pretty much dreck though, as described eloquently elsewhere.

    Are we really sure that Gary Barlow is a good songwriter? His reputation in this regard seems to rest entirely on Back For Good and maybe a couple of the TT comeback songs. Otherwise, the TT stuff that we’ve come across thus far that I have any time for had Jim Steinman and Brothers in Rhythm involved or were covers. Is it really just a nostalgia factor or am I missing something here.

  6. 36
    Chelovek na lune on 2 Jan 2014 #

    #35 I, too, am unconvinced of the man’s track record as a songwriter (a few, mostly well-known, standouts, aside -although a quick run through his back catalogue inspired by this post has persuaded me that the second and, intended but then cancelled third singles from his flop second album are pretty, surprisingly, strong too)

    I wonder if Barlow’s rise towards becoming almost The Younger Paul McCartney, Unimpeachable National Treasure, is more to do with his quasi-managerial-organisational-networking skills (certainly his role in the recreation and renovation of Take That demonstrates great competence here), rather than the songwriting stuff, which has been inconsistent. And, I guess (?), being a Bloody Nice Bloke and being able to get things done (and not being waylaid by an overly artistic temperament) is not to be sniffed at….

    Either that, or he has some really juicy insider information about senior figures in the BBC and/or the Royal Family/etc , which give him great powers of blackmail….his rise to impeachability, while, to be fair, neither rapid nor handed on a plate, has been so meteoric that one almost, just almost, wonders….

  7. 37
    Andrew Farrell on 2 Jan 2014 #

    #30 – in fairness, you’ll find a bunch of defenders of any song on the video’s Youtube comments.

  8. 38
    Izzy on 2 Jan 2014 #

    I think we’ve already discussed Gary-as-songwriter a number of times on Popular. My view is that he’s always been pretty mediocre and was very lucky that when TT pushed that angle, it stuck. He can write a verse, but Back For Good is the only worthwhile chorus he’s ever managed, maybe Sure at a push – not iirc the consensus round here, as Never Forget got a surprisingly good reception even though I can’t imagine it’s a song anyone’s ever caught themselves singing. If he was genuinely good their key records wouldn’t largely be covers.

    Anyway, for hooks Robbie beats Gary out of sight (who’s responsible for those I guess we’ll come on to). Angels alone does this pretty much. As does Tony Mortimer, but then songs are only part of what a band’s about ultimately.

  9. 39
    punctum on 2 Jan 2014 #

    The question of who actually wrote “Angels” is still a clouded one. Was it Ray Heffernan, or Guy Chambers, or Robbie himself? Each says something different though all three get songwriting credits.

  10. 40
    @TriffidFarm on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Popular keeps its scoring bell-curve fleshed out with a hard line on dreadful ballads http://t.co/txpgBLIRi7

  11. 41
    Izzy on 2 Jan 2014 #

    There was a short comedy series about a boy band, whose name I’ve forgotten but I think was on C4, who had a talented songwriter in their midst – the problem being that it was actually one of the eyecandy who was the genius, and so they had to push the ugly bloke at the back forward instead because there was no way of justifying his presence otherwise. Whether this pre or post dated the rise of Robbie I’m afraid I don’t know.

  12. 42
    weej on 2 Jan 2014 #

    That was ‘Boyz Unlimited’, still quite funny a couple of decades on – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/boyz-unlimited/4od

  13. 43
    Another Pete on 2 Jan 2014 #

    #31 Simply because they can’t wheel out Macca playing ‘Hey Jude’ forever.

    I think it’s sitting on the X-Factor panel that does it. The now rosarium bottomed Geordie was apparently the most desirable woman on the planet during her stint.

  14. 44
    punctum on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Wonder which planet that was.

  15. 45
    iconoclast on 2 Jan 2014 #

    I have absolutely no recollection of this whatsoever. Will my life be any worse if I don’t bother to listen to it?

    #41: I remember “the fat one who writes the songs”, played by James Corden, and (Glaswegian accent) “no, let’s call him Sane Bob”.

  16. 46
    Another Pete on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Planet Redtop

  17. 47
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Jan 2014 #

    Happy New Year all. Great to see Popular going full steam ahead in this mid-nineties era of extremes.

    1?! Ahaha, poor Barry Garlow and the Good For Nothings*. It’s offensive by being inoffensive. It’s just.. Not much, really, is it? There are many fake-sombre, deathly dull number ones but can’t recall this one being abhorrently inescapable as a kid of eleven. Three.

    Something I can’t say about the Christmas 2003 treatment of a cathartic classic on the next TPL album. A disturbing bunny from a (relatively excellent) film about a disturbing bunny..

    * A genuine rock covers band from Burnley

  18. 48
    hardtogethits on 2 Jan 2014 #

    I’ll start with a tortuous* fact. Gary Barlow was the first act whose first week of UK singles chart action** was at number one AND whose second week wasn’t. Put more punchily, this didn’t win him any new fans, did it?

    And I’m not blinking surprised. A friend of mine and I used to disappointedly enquire “all that, for that?” whenever we saw an expensively created comedy sketch on TV, wherein the punchline was poor or obvious or both. All that expense and time invested in such a poor output. It might seem like an incredibly specific set of circumstances, but in the heyday of Little and Large, Russ Abbot etc, it happened quite a lot. I think we got the disdainful catchphrase from his Dad – we approved of the way he expressed disapproval.*** Over the years, the phrase became a little more versatile. I tread carefully here, because I recognise now the esteem in which Jesus To A Child is held, but I vividly remember my friend and I both reacted to JTAC with “All that, for that?” Meaning all that time, all that anticipation, for such a slow, hook-free record, and one which seemed to remain so firmly within the boundaries that the artist had achieved before (had either of us known what the record was about, we may have reacted differently). When Forever Love emerged, I got the impression Gary Barlow had been thinking that JTAC was a near-perfect comeback single**** – and decided to follow suit with some kind of competitive gamble. “I see your drawn-out, downbeat, ponderous, sombre***** balladry – I can be far more of all of those things.” And boy did he succeed. At the time I used to think the song would break into something like “Hard Habit To Break” – not glorious, not exciting, but maybe appreciable, tolerable. But it doesn’t, does it? It just goes on and on and on. 1 is right.

    And by now you may well be thinking “All that, for that?”

    Happy New Year everyone!

    *Or should that be torturous.
    **As the main credited artist
    ***Apologies, friend, if you read this and I’ve misremembered that bit.
    **** Even if this were true, GB may still have understood what JTAC was about, in a way that I didn’t.
    *****re edited to include “sombre” because I like Patrick Mexico’s “fake-sombre” description at 47

  19. 49
    wichitalineman on 3 Jan 2014 #

    re 48: Good point mentioning Chicago. All of Forever Love feels like it should be about to break into the chorus of Hard To Say I’m Sorry. Some kind of modulation, at least, some slightly unexpected chord change, something slightly salty. But the listener spends the four minutes gradually realising that, at some point, they must have already heard the chorus. All we get to distract us from the meander is that awful attempt at falsetto.

    HTGH, I love tortuous facts like that.

  20. 50
    AMZ1981 on 3 Jan 2014 #

    #48 That’s interesting; first act whose first week was at number one but whose second wasn’t. It had me skirting on ahead to see who was the second – technically it was Dunblane but the next artist in the conventional sense was White Town early in 97. Of course such a distinction is far from uncommon now.

    #41 I remember Boyz Unlimited (although didn’t realise it was James Corden) and the digs at Gary Barlow were the only thing I found particularly funny; the show’s other good laugh was incidental and this blog will reach it in due course …

  21. 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.


  22. 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.

  23. 53
    Rory on 7 Jan 2014 #

    Ye gods, this is awful.

  24. 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”

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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)?

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. 63
    Tom on 10 May 2014 #

    We can expect a few more Greatest Hits packages, then? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27356896

  34. 64
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    It is long and tedious and agree it came out at the wrong time however it was still a major global success especially in Europe and Asia.
    This is often overlooked because of what became of Robbie my point being the track is good not great but it wasn’t a disaster internationally.
    He got off to a good start but fell away.

  35. 65
    Garridio on 2 Dec 2020 #

    Tom is spot on with this one. An utter damp squib of a record deserving of 1/10. Barlow clearly bottled it, and handed the initiative to Robbie Williams straight away; although Barlow somewhat redeemed himself in latter years.

  36. 66
    benson_79 on 19 Jan 2021 #

    I laughed out loud at the 1 for this; a mark that’s both harsh and eminently justifiable. He really has had quite the 21st century rehabilitation…

  37. 67
    Gareth Parker on 6 May 2021 #

    I could probably just about stretch to a 2/10 here, but blimey what a tedious record!

  38. 68
    Mr Tinkertrain on 9 Feb 2022 #

    Echoing the above, no memories of this either from the time, or from listening to it again ten minutes ago. 2/10 seems right.

    Other chart highlights: a couple of summer ’96 behemoths (Wannabe and Macarena) first appeared in the chart this week (#3 and #11 respectively). A reminder that while most singles by this time entered at their peak and dropped from there, not everything did…

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