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It took Take That frontman and general musical genius (he’s my favourite male singer/songwriter of all-time, okay) Gary Barlow OBE, 14 whole years to produce this solo album, which is quite understandable, considering how traumatic his last foray into solo music—Twelve Months, Eleven Days—has been for him.

As the review title states, this is the album that Barlow desperately needed to get out of his system. This is the diary of his Wilderness Years from music. This album contains the words that he so needed to say and the songs that he so needed to sing. They obviously lack the certain lightness of the Take That iteration of Barlow, but the thing is, as a solo artist, Barlow seems to be a lot more straight and introspective, even having the tendency to take himself a little too seriously. When he’s with the Take That boys (er, men)—it doesn’t matter whether they’re 3, 4 or 5 altogether—a certain magic just happens that easily translates into their music.

Not to say that his offerings as a solo artist are of less quality compared to his Take That work, it’s just that the songs in this album carry so much more…weight and gravitas. This is Barlow at his most candid, most uninhibited, most emotionally-exposed.

Let Me Go, the album’s first single, is surprisingly a departure from Barlow’s signature ballads and evokes a folksy, Mumford and Sons-esque sound to it. While it may be fast-paced and cheery-sounding, this song actually speaks of Gary’s stillborn child Poppy, something which he hasn’t openly discussed since 2012, which only makes the song both sweet yet heartbreaking.

Requiem for me seems obvious to be his collaboration with Robbie Williams, as it has a certain amount of Robbie’s cheekiness in it, despite the heaviness of the song’s theme (the death of Gary’s father Colin). Sidebar: I somehow wish Gary made a version of another song he co-wrote with Robbie, titled “Heart And I” (which is in Robbie’s 20th Anniversary album), because I think the words are also fitting for his struggles and journey. I suppose he can still perform it in shows in the future, like he did for “Candy”.

Jump is what I think was Gary’s love letter to himself during his dark times. It is a lovely song that is full of encouragement and positivity. Just imagining what he was feeling when he was writing this makes me want to give him a massive hug.

Since I Saw You Last is probably the closest to a “F*** You” song that Barlow would ever do, but of course he is far too classy to express his sentiments in such a crass and prosaic way. It tells of his hardships during the time he became British Music’s “favourite joke/whipping boy” which made him “toxic and unemployable”. He now speaks of that time with ease and a certain fondness, but I reckon he enjoys singing this piece because it reminds him of how awful things were for him in the past and how he managed to get back up and pick up the broken pieces.

Face To Face, a track he recorded with the Elton John, is an easy listen; it’s upbeat and catchy but for some reason, I find it a bit…mature for Barlow (and yes, I know he’s not young anymore, either!). I actually like it better when Gary performs it live and by himself. Although I can appreciate the fact that Gary meant for this as a “thank you” song for Elton for sticking by him through thick and thin (no pun intended).

Dying Inside is my favourite track in the album because this is the song where Gary wrenches his aching, beating heart out of his chest and tosses it into the table for all the world to see. For anyone who has experienced grief, loss, pain, loneliness or even an inexplicable emptiness, but could not for the life of them share it with anyone else, this song would hit you like a ton of bricks. It is a bittersweet listen but Barlow’s fervent, emotion-filled voice accompanied by his deft piano playing is what makes this one of the best, heartbreaking pieces of his entire songbook.

More Than Life, I’m guessing, is a tribute song to his wife and rock, Dawn Andrews, and what a song it is. With just six words: “I love you more than life”, Barlow summarizes just how deeply and passionately he could love. Could we possibly have him cloned, please?

Overall, I find the album a fantastic listen. Then again, Gary Barlow could sing the contents of the phone book and I’d still gladly listen. Kidding aside, it was a very personal masterpiece that Barlow and Take That fans who know of his journey would surely appreciate. This was the solo album that he wanted to create from the very beginning. However, without the difficulties and mistakes of the previous two (I personally loved both, but I get Gary’s point when he said he felt “creatively-stifled” during that time), would this have been as successful? Probably not.

In a strange way, it was his past struggles that made him a much better singer and songwriter. SISYL takes you on an emotional rollercoaster but in the end, you’ll end up thinking, “I’m glad he got through it all.”

I don’t see Barlow coming out with another solo album anytime soon, as he has made it clear time and again that musically, Take That remains his Number One priority. I myself am perfectly fine with that. If Since I Saw you Last would be the last Barlow album for some time, then it’s a darn good product to be remembered by.

So yes, it was well worth the 14-year wait and more. I suppose my only issue with it is: I wish it was much longer!

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