Editors' Notes Back in 1992, as Take That were in the first flourishes of superstardom, one of the band’s bodyguards took Gary Barlow to watch another of his clients playing at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The performer that evening was Frank Sinatra, and the showmanship on display stayed with Barlow. “He really bossed the night,” Barlow tells Apple Music. “It was like he was the conductor, the bandleader, the guy who set the tempos.” It was at the forefront of Barlow’s mind as Take That’s triumphant Greatest Hits Live tour wound down in 2019 and his thoughts turned towards a first solo album since 2013’s Since I Saw You Last. “When the idea of the album came, I thought, ‘I want to boss this record, I want to be the guy who puffs his chest out, almost in a Robbie [Williams, of course…] way, and lead the band.’” The resultant record, Music Played by Humans, is one of the most collaborative and defiantly upbeat albums of Barlow’s illustrious career. Featuring guest spots from Michael Bublé, James Corden, Beverley Knight, Chilly Gonzales, Barry Manilow and more, it makes audacious leaps from Latin-influenced pop to songs that hark back to Barlow’s love of big band. “I really wanted to show my audience a level of complexity that they’ve never seen in my songwriting,” he explains, guiding Apple Music through Music Played by Humans track by track.

Who’s Driving This Thing
“When I looked at this album, I was like, ‘Let's have a track that introduces all the sections of the orchestra. When have I ever been able to do that before?’ It's very much an approach of a gig, and I pretty much made it my rule that if I couldn't gig these songs, I wouldn't record them. It’s just great fun, and lyrics that I'd never written before. I loved recording this one as well, it was a real thrill. It’s an interesting genre that, for music that's so powerful, as a vocalist you're the only one in the room who's very relaxed. You can sing your bit in an armchair as everyone else is literally on the edge of their seats.”

Incredible
“This is one of the first tracks I wrote for the album. It started with a drum loop. I take a laptop with me everywhere, going on planes, in the back of cars, everywhere, and I had this library and it was called Swing. It had a bunch of grooves and it had this one that was just a rhythm but I could just hear this song straight away. I could hear the chorus. I could hear the verse. It's incredible what tees you up to write a song. It can be a car horn going, it can be a phone ringing. It can be a drumbeat. It can be a kick drum. I always find it amazing the things that lead you to writing pieces of music, but it was literally this one drum loop and I pretty much had the song.”

Elita
“I've only toured South America once, and it was late in the '90s and we were in a club in Rio de Janeiro and there was an act that came on at midnight called Elita. And she was just like a Latin dancer, and the place went crazy. I've always remembered it and thought I've got to write a song about this. What it's truly about is the power of women and how whatever they're given in life, they just take over the world. Michael [Bublé] really hopped on to that. He wrote all his parts and then late on in the recording, he said, 'Listen, my wife's South American. And I think we should add someone to it.' It was funny because while it was me and Michael, it did sound like a guy from London and a guy from Vancouver singing about a Latin girl. But when Sebastián [Yatra] arrived, all of a sudden, it felt authentic. It was like, 'This could have been made in Colombia.' It's amazing the tiny bit of ingredient that turns it into something new.”

The Big Bass Drum
“I really didn't want this to be a sleepy record, so I really attacked all the tempo. And the other thing is, it’s so beautiful when an orchestra plays together, but when an orchestra plays to tempo, I mean, it's fucking thrilling. Because it was the first music people danced to, there's a heritage and you can't not celebrate it. But when I got the tracks back to the studio, I remember listening and thinking, ‘I could have done this in 1950. What is going to make this different and feel like it belongs in 2020?’ And so we stripped away all the rhythm section and I got a friend called James Wiltshire, who was part of the Freemasons so he's done remixes, to do a load of beats for us. It’s an important part of making these songs feel like they're in the now. The frequencies that people hear now, if your kick drum's not hitting those sounds, it's going to sound like it was recorded in another era, and I didn't want that.”

This Is My Time
“This was a very early song. I always think when I'm writing pop music, the key to the pop music is simplicity. So if I sit down and I'm writing a pop album, if I play an F major seven, the first thing I do is I go, ‘No, no, that's got to be an F.’ This record to me was if I sat down and played a C major nine, I'm going to leave it there because that's the kind of record I want this to be. I wanted it to fall as my fingers fell, I wanted that to be what people heard.”

Enough Is Enough (feat. Beverley Knight)
“At this point of the record, I was really going down that Latin-y route, using bossa nova beats. I'd done one session with the brass at that point where they'd played some Latin, and I loved it. I came up with ‘Enough Is Enough’ and I thought, ‘Oh, wow. Again, this could work in a Latin way.’ So I called Beverley, a good friend of mine. And then she introduced me to Carlos Sosa. This is the only track produced by someone else on this record. We sent it to him in Austin and he did the music for it, with his Latin band. Again, we'd done a session on this. And it definitely sounded like we were in London. And when he did it in Austin, it was just terrific. And then Bev heard it and she was like, 'Now I can do my performance on it.' I think she possibly did one and a half takes and we got it.”

Bad Libran
“I've always wanted to write a song about the star signs because I think they're funny. And accurate, which is weird. I'm Aquarian. I wanted to write about this girl who is all the things that Libra isn't. And so I knew when I was writing this song, at some point I've got to name every star sign, so it became like a puzzle. It was great fun to write this one. And again, amazing fun to do musically. It was a real play. We had some of the best brass players on this—we had people who played on Star Wars on this session.”

Eleven (feat. Ibrahim Maalouf)
“‘Eleven’ was in that Latin sort of patch for me. And it also features Ibrahim Maalouf, and I love his albums, he's got a very distinctive style of playing. And so he came on the record early. I'd barely finished the lyrics and we had him on there. It was initially going to be a duet, but I ended up leaving it in the end as just me. It’s again celebrating chords, there’s some beautiful chords in there. And I just think that that groove, the bossa nova groove, is so sexy.”

Before We Get Too Old (feat. Avishai Cohen)
“This is very much my view of life. It’s like, ‘We're here, we're alive. If you want to do something, do it today.’ Who knows what tomorrow is going to bring? And again, it's done in that sort of Morecambe and Wise-y way, a glint in the eye. There are a few bits of storytelling in there. It was really good fun to write and gives me a chuckle. We've got [bassist] Avishai Cohen on there, and I love his playing. When he played it, it was like it was a different instrument going on there. The guy is crazy. He did it in a couple of takes. We had a great afternoon with him. It was a great fun song to make.”

Supernatural
“I got James Wiltshire in to do the beats to this one. It was good fun to sing, just one of them upswingy sort of ones. It did take me ages to sequence this album. For something that felt so focused at the start, it went off and it was like, ‘Right, OK, how am I going to piece this together?’ I think we got it right, because it feels like a nice listen when I listen through to it. I always wanted it to feel diverse. That's what was the opportunity of this record for me, is to try and make it as diverse as possible.”

Oh What a Day (feat. Chilly Gonzales)
“Chilly Gonzales is a character. I'll be honest, we spent most of the day talking rather than actually making music. He's a virtuoso pianist. It ended up being more of like a production session rather than a song featuring Chilly. It was just a wonderful day and great stories, great fun.”

What Leaving’s All About (feat. Alesha Dixon)
“I think Alesha was the last collaboration we did. And sadly, I had to do it over Zoom. But she's an old friend of mine and she's a great professional. She came in, did her bits, added a new piece at the end. The song had been pretty much written before she arrived. It’s one of the darker ones on this record. I've written so many breakup songs, and an experience of someone I knew was the fact that they had a breakup and they turned it into a positive. They positively moved forward, seeing the breakup as an opportunity for them to both really go forward and go upwards rather than it be this horrible, drawn-out, painful thing.”

The Kind of Friend I Need (feat. James Corden)
“This goes back to my dad. He used to love Morecambe and Wise, and we all used to sit down as a family and watch it. One thing they always had on their show which I loved was they had a buddy song. It wasn't like a duet where a man sings for a woman and it's a love song. This was two mates singing to each other. And this is where it gets difficult. Because when I do international interviews, I have to explain to them that in England, the way we tell a mate we love them is we insult them. And they just can't get it. There's only one person I could get to do that with me, and it’s James Corden. So I sent him the track and he loved it.”

I Didn’t See That Coming
“After all the fun and games, with all these musicians and massive sessions and small sessions, I wanted to really bring it down to me and a piano. I just thought, ‘The best way of closing this record is to sum up where my life's up to.’ And that's what it's about. It's about all the things I wasn't expecting in the last 50 years. It just felt like the perfect way to close the record.”

Let’s Get Drunk
“Well, it is what it says on the tin, this one. I don't know whether it's a British thing, but when you've done well, celebrate. When someone's lost weight, tell them. When someone looks good, compliment them. It's like, if the opportunity's there, do it. This is like two old friends meet and say, ‘Let's just go and have a great night out.’”

The Day the World Stopped Turning
“This was going to be the one Chilly Gonzales was going to play on, and then when he heard ‘Oh What a Day’, he’d seen an opportunity of a style he hadn't done. So, I'm guessing something like ‘The Day the World Stopped Turning’ is a style he’d probably done a million times. So I ended up playing the piano myself on it and finishing the song off, and it's a little bit more of a classic sort of song that I would write. I've done a few musicals in the last few years and they've definitely helped me improve my melodies, and I think 'The Day the World Stopped Turning' is quite a celebration of melody. It's a very intricate, complicated melody.”

You Make the Sun Shine (feat. Barry Manilow)
“I went to see Barry and I had four songs. In fact, initially I wanted him to do an arrangement for ‘This Is My Time’ and then when he heard ‘You Make the Sun Shine’, he said, ‘Oh, it's “Can't Smile Without You”. That's a very unusual tempo. No one does that anymore.’ So, of course I realised it really was a little bit of a rip-off. He played the piano and I recorded him, and then unfortunately we had lockdown so I actually had to do the orchestras here. He was going to do them all in Los Angeles, but he did the parts for us, wrote them out, and I recorded them all here and he joined us on Zoom.”

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