Dec 13

GARY BARLOW – “Forever Love”

Popular67 comments • 6,703 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. 1
    Plum Yuleing (@tomewing) on 31 Dec 2013 #

    Ring out the old… Gary Barlow chokes, in the last Popular entry of 2013 http://t.co/qnVmWjQeD4 – and a happy new year to all readers!

  2. 2
    enitharmon on 31 Dec 2013 #

    Ooh a 1! Haven’t had one of those for ages now. Fortunately this piece of ordure never registered with me at the time.

  3. 3
    wichitalineman on 31 Dec 2013 #

    A trace memory remains of the uncomfortable shift into falsetto. Nothing of the song – lyric, melody, structure – comes to mind at all.

    Listening to it for the first time in eighteen (EIGHTEEN!?) years, I hear as much of Cliff Richard as Elton John in the vocal. He might also have had A Different Corner in mind. Either way, he forgot to write an actual song. The whole song sounds like extraneous parts of verse melody.

    The one thing in its favour is that, were it recorded now, the backing would be far more overblown. Not much of a positive, really.

    Well. That’s got the evening off to a flyer! Happy new year Tom, and to all of the Popular gang.

  4. 4
    mapman132 on 31 Dec 2013 #

    Never having heard this before I played it on Youtube last night, I was expecting to be bored to tears, and I was, uh, not disappointed. 1/10 is a bit harsh, but 2/10 is not, and I’ve already forgotten what it sounds like and have no interest in ever fixing this.

    The only interesting thing about this record is its proximity with far more memorable #1’s. Ironies abound of course about who it is that’s still having hits in the 2010’s.

    Happy new year. We all know who’s up next ;)

  5. 5
    Speedwell54 on 31 Dec 2013 #

    The intro sounds a bit ‘Theme from Cheers”/’The River’ He had done, and will do better, but personally I think a ‘1’ is unfair. Does it more reflect disappointment? It lacks a lot, but has something. I feel you could have saved the 1 for later in the year.

    This may have been he first number 1 single to come in a cardboard (as opposed to plastic) single (as opposed to gatefold) sleeve. Literally the first spineless UK number one cd single. Unless you know different… Very cheap. But a 3.

    All the best for 2014 Tom+

  6. 6
    23 Daves on 31 Dec 2013 #

    At this point in my life I lived in a provincial town and used to occasionally get sent demo tapes by aspiring local bands and songwriters. The singer-songwriter tapes (or sometimes CDs) usually all took a similar format – four sparsely arranged ballads, usually with hackneyed titles like “I Wish I Could Fly Away”, “If Only Forever”, or “When We Touch Each Other”. They would always be backed by an electronic piano, or a real one if the budget was a good, and have non-existent choruses. They’d just brood and meander away.

    So my first thought when hearing this single in 1996 was that maybe I was wrong all along. Maybe all these local Creme Brûlée songwriters I’d been ignoring had actually been tapping into a trend all along. Of course, they hadn’t, and Barlow no more deserved a number one with this than any of the others deserved a publishing contract. It is utter blandness from start to finish.

    #3 – I can definitely hear “A Different Corner” here, but I actually enjoy that single. It has a distinct, brilliantly produced eeriness to it that’s captivating. This is just a sparse, meandering ballad which has no distinguishing features at all. Even with Barlow’s name attached to it, it’s quite surprising it got as far as number one.

  7. 7
    Tom on 31 Dec 2013 #

    #5 It’s hard to think of a more tedious, sloppy record all decade. It’s not hateful by any means but sometimes I want to throw a 1 at a record just because of how BORING it is, and this is one of those occasions.

    There is, of course, no guarantee that it’s the final 1 of 1996.

  8. 8
    MikeMCSG on 31 Dec 2013 #

    The only thing I remember about this is turning off The Chart Show after the first few bars so I’m glad to read I didn’t miss anything.

    He didn’t take getting knocked off by the next one very well and said if I recall correctly “You can’t compete with shit” which actually sums up his solo career quite well.

  9. 9
    ciaran on 1 Jan 2014 #

    If nothing else this is an interesting record to cover just before the take that image is inevitably removed from the Popular homepage link.

    A great piece Tom. You’ve nailed the problem with this perfectly.Back in 1996 this was almost like the most predictable Number 1 before it was even heard.18 months of goodwill built up before it all came crashing down with Barlow watching the parade go by.

    I’d like to make an argument for even the dullest of Popular but this is just appaling. A record with Elton or George Michael in ideas but more De Burgh/Berry/Medeiros in execution.One of the blandest Number 1’s ever.In one ear and out the other. Like the forgettable sound you would hear at a night in a restaurant or wine bar.

    Its not as bad as Mr Blobby or Bombalurina and I could stretch it to 2 but I’m sober tonight so a ‘1’ seems fair.Mr’s Barlow wont be happy if she’s reading!.

    Speedwell54 thinks the intro sounds like ‘cheers/the river’ but to me the theme to Australian Soap ‘A Country Practice’ comes to mind straight away.

    Radio seemed to play this as a late-night love staple for the next year or so just in case Barlow would become a solo star but by the time Robbie won the war ‘Forever Love’ was gone from the airwaves, never to return.

    Robbie has his flaws as we’ll discover later on but recalling this and without upsetting the bunny it makes the perceived disaster of the likes of Rudebox look a lot more forgivable in reflection.’Freedom’ though was and is terrible.

    Intrigued to know what if any other ‘1”s of 1996 could be. 2 candidates for that I think.

    Happy new year to you all. It’s always a pleasure to follow popular.

  10. 10
    Mark G on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Aha, looking forward to this one now I can say what I’d been wanting to say since the days of debating “Baby Jump” as being the most forgotten number one of all time..

    That this, this song right here, is the most forgettable song of all time. Not just of the number ones.

    I can hear it one time, and as soon as it’s done, I can’t recall anything about it. Apart from that it’s a ballad of some kind. And that Gary Barlow sings it.

    I do remember Robbie saying he couldn’t understand why Gary released the songs he did, when he had “Loads” of better ones. I quite liked “Open Road” about as archetypal a Barry Garlow song as ever there was one.

    Anyways, happy new year to all the readers and writers of Freaky Trigger, we all love all of youse, yes we do.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 1 Jan 2014 #

    GB sounds like he’s singing in his sleep – or possibly in mine, as I think I dozed off at some point. This isn’t what I want, what I really, really want.

  12. 12
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Jan 2014 #

    A mid-period Elton John B-side, untypically weak single, or cast-off album track; and so very immediately obviously not the future, nor for longer than its duration, the present, of pop.

    To damn with faint praise: neither the most forgettable nor most disagreeable single of Barlow’s initial solo career.

    (I too have a soft spot for ‘Open Road’, even if it is, frankly, Music for Alan Partridge, with characterless production values, dialled-in preplayed backing music suggesting an unanticipated lack of ambition – or record company support? -, and which so rapidly became unavoidable wallpaper music in charity shops across the land as a loyal fanbase discovered they’d been sold a pup….but I digress…and more of that later).

    To damn with even fainter praise: VERY far from being the sappiest or intensely, objectionally forgettable ballad no 1 of 1996.

    The case for the defence, however, is brief, mostly concentrating the almost overblown League Two grandeur (albeit one that seems aimed more at Blackpool in the wind and rain, rather than Las Vegas: no long-term performer at any venue of note there would have touched such a half-baked number) of the cadence that closes the chorus of ‘Forever Love’, which, at least, sticks in the mind, even if little else about the composition does.

    Although ill-formed sentimental dross….well, seems to fit well with some key aspect of the Cool Britannia-linked political movements on the ascendancy at this time, just awaiting their chance in the following spring…

    But in general: I don’t wanna go on with you like that. Think I can stretch to a 3.

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Also…..it takes some nerve for such a weak song to have a video that, in its second half, so very blatantly copies (or simply rips off) the promo for Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ (the successive images of couples embracing): now THAT is a song of real emotional depth, narrative/meaning and substance. THIS is none of those things…

  14. 14
    swanstep on 1 Jan 2014 #

    New to me… and, wow, The Phantom Song! FL feels like a bunch of the sort of early noodlings one does en route to something that can be taken to the rest of a band, not close to any sort of finished product. And how odd it must be to (at least for a short time) have literally anything you excrete go to #1.

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Getting a little bit ahead but it is worth noting that Gary Barlow will trouble the blog once more before we go into the wilderness years for all members of Take That bar one. I wanted to like this at the time and managed to persuade myself to – with hindsight it is bloody awful BUT I still prefer it to the record that entered at number three the same week and will be under discussion shortly.

    A couple of observations. All three members of Take That chose to launch their solo careers with dreadul records. Robbie’s cover of Freedom was a messy attempt to make a statement and Mark Owen emerged in November with a wet ballad that misrepresented a surprisingly strong album. In the case of Gary Barlow, however, he didn’t actually have anything better – his first solo album had one decent self penned song which he would eventually release four singles in.

    Finally, with regard to Robbie Williams the battle was not yet won; it’s too conveniently forgotten his chart trajectory started 2,2,8,14 and an album that vanished into the bargain bins within three weeks – then Angels.

  16. 16
    snoball on 1 Jan 2014 #

    I remember this song being released, but I have no memory at all of what it sounds like, other than it’s very dull.

  17. 17
    Mark G on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Does he still play it live, I wonder?

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 1 Jan 2014 #

    I’ve got a soft spot for Open Road too, for its comedy value, its clumsy Partridge-esque take on Man In The Mirror – “the man is me.” More of this blatant punchline stuff to come with Britney’s non-Popular The Girl In The Mirror in a few years.

    I always thought the first line of Open Road was “My life is extraordinarily plain”, which would make sense as it not only rhymes with the next line but explains the black holes in Forever Love which would have been filled by a songwriter with anything of import to say.

    At one GB gig in ’97, reviewed by the Guardian, someone’s bum in denim shorts appeared on the screen behind him. Gary turned around, saw this, and said “I like a bit of that… maybe later”. Around this time, I also took to doing impressions of Gary Barlow, saying this line but giving him the voice of Greengrass from Heartbeat. I realise none of this makes much sense written down.

  19. 19
    anto on 1 Jan 2014 #

    I must have been clearing out the shed when this was at number one.

    In the words of Tony Blackburn ‘the fabulous 5, you want ’em , they’re on the way’ (cue joke about ‘the title of this next song is what people often say about my career hahahah’)

    New years resolution – stop listening to radio 2.

  20. 20
    bob stanley (@rocking_bob) on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Tom Ewing’s Popular blog reaches one of the most forgotten/forgettable no.1s, the Baby Jump of the 90s: http://t.co/1LAAdj6w5F

  21. 21
    weej on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Amazed that nobody’s commented on that CD cover so far. It looks like he’s just realised he’s left his wallet at home, and is going to have to walk back and get it, AGAIN! The video is equally inexplicable – he gets up, wanders around for a bit, goes to a cafe where people stare at him, then takes a taxi to a photo studio where he watches someone take photos of couples. The whole time they’ve styled him to look as much like Tom Cruise as possible. Seems that the director was as mystified about the song as everyone here.

    I have nothing to say about the song, except that I’ve just listened to it twice and already I’ve forgotten 95% of it.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 1 Jan 2014 #

    As far as I can tell he’s in some casting exercise where he’s on the panel while couples try to look interesting and engaging for him. A strange echo of what he ended up doing a decade and a half later, and much the most interesting thing about the whole exercise. For some reason the song I had going round my head a few seconds after listening to this was “All Out Of Love” by Air Supply – maybe a little piano trill did it.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 1 Jan 2014 #

    And since it’s that time again, the annual review. Here’s where we’ve been at the end of each calendar year:
    2003 Great Balls Of Fire (#66, Jan 58 – 5 years 2 months, 66 entries in the year)
    2004 A World Without Love (#167, Apr 64 – 6 years 3 months, 101)
    2005 Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine (#222, Aug 66 – 2 years 4 months, 55)
    2006 Get It On (#302, Jul 71 – 4 years 11 months, 80)
    2007 Lonely This Christmas (#362, Dec 74 – 3 years 5 months, 60)
    2008 This Ole House (#477, Mar 81 – 6 years 3 months, 115 (plus the Pistols!))
    2009 I Want To Wake Up With You (#575, Aug 86 – 5 years 5 months, 98)
    2010 World In Motion (#646, Jun 90 – 3 years 10 months, 71)
    2011 No Limit (#685, Feb 93 – 2 years 8 months, 39)
    2012 Doop (#703, Mar 94 – 1 year 1 month, 18)
    2013 Forever Love (#742, Jul 96 – 2 years 4 months, 39)

    Back to the rate of 2011 after 2012’s slow period, and it’s been a fun year revisiting Britpop and reaching the cusp of a new era. One of the bunnied five was on Jools’ Hootenanny last night on fine form. Happy new year to the Populista crew old and new, and looking forward to Tom’s next twelve months.

  24. 24
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Gary of course also had the plum slot of the lead in to the bells yesterday – we avoided all before but stuck around to see him sing a couple (go on, guess) of the Take That tunes. He is slowly turning into Robbie.

  25. 25
    punctum on 1 Jan 2014 #

    I took a look ahead at the rest of 1996’s number ones and it’s a season of extremes to be sure. Score-wise these would include the following:

    Three which I would score 1 (both by the same act, to nobody’s surprise, and not counting “Forever Love” – no comment by me on the latter here as I’ll be writing about the whole Open Road album, other than to say that I agree with Tom’s rating);

    Two to which I would give a (generous) 2;

    Two to which I would give the full 10 (plus three 9s!);

    One which I would personally score zero (no redeeming factors whatsoever);

    And one which I regard as ungradeable.

    Happy New Year to one and all.

  26. 26
    Tom on 1 Jan 2014 #

    #23 thanks Erithian, it’s actually really heartening that I managed twice the rate of last year, I felt things had fallen off a bit (big project at work just leaving me very tired). The aim for this year is to top 100 – only the 3rd time I’ll have managed this, if I do it.

    I’m a fast writer but a very slow starter.

  27. 27
    @23Daves on 1 Jan 2014 #

    Freaky Trigger’s Popular project actually got around to talking about “Forever Love” last night. 1 out of 10. http://t.co/TDpYO9kzhA

  28. 28
    punctum on 1 Jan 2014 #

    #25 (self-correct): Two of my three 1s are by the same act. The third one I thought about for a moment before deciding “nope, it’s a 1.”

  29. 29
    mapman132 on 1 Jan 2014 #

    #25 Interesting. I’ll have to see if I can predict which records are which :)

    Here’s how I see the rest of 1996 in non-chronological order:

    Three records by you know who.

    Two each by two different acts I’m unfamiliar with other than a strong suspicion I’ll hate them (Two of your 1’s are lurking here, I suspect…)

    Two different relatively obscure (in America) followups to much better known songs (in America).

    One record which wouldn’t be that bad if not for its inane lyrics.

    One somewhat unusual #1 that only got minor notice from me at the time, but I’ve since decided I quite like.

    One 3-songs-in-1 that I’m really dreading.

    And finally, one that simply makes me sad, not because it’s a bad record, but because it makes me feel ashamed of…well we’ll get to that I guess.

  30. 30
    thefatgit on 1 Jan 2014 #

    I can fully understand the temptation to look ahead, when faced with such unmitigated turgidity from Barlow. Happy New Year, btw. Lest we forget, by 2014 Barlow has already overtaken Cliff and is miles ahead of our next Popular entry with his tally of #1 singles (11 with TT, this and 2 other solo bunnyables). Robbie isn’t very far behind. The tally of #1 singles is of course no indicator of quality (ask Macca. Of course you’ll need a clairvoyant to ask Elvis, but even his tally is disputable depending on whose chart you follow) but it does tell us that he’s a very marketable artist. Perhaps the UK’s most marketable artist of the modern era*. And singles like “Forever Love” are little more than a tally-mark. I’m not really trying to defend Barlow for FL. It’s almost as if the song was constructed by focus group. If FL were a car, it would be a VW Golf. Nothing exciting, but you’ll find staunch defenders of this song on the video’s YouTube comments thread, like a bunch of proud Golf owners. And that’s perfectly OK for them. Speaking of the video, was this tossed off by Richard Curtis, by any chance? It seems like a rejected montage from Notting Hill, Actually, or something.

    “Baby Jump”? Yeah, I guess so. But after a few listens, “Baby Jump” can charm you, where this lacks any charm whatsoever. Unless this was your and your significant other’s theme tune, or you were a TT fan pining away for some output – any output from Robbie or Barlow, I can’t imagine ever wanting to go to all that effort of taking a trip into town specifically to buy the CD single or the cassingle from Woolworths. I think I could state with some confidence that Barlow never picked up any new fans with FL. Next.

    *If you count the modern era beginning in 1990.

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