Face to Face is Gary Barlow’s tribute to pal Sir Elton John for sticking by him during the wilderness of the late 1990s before Take That’s massive comeback. It’s produced by Steve Power (who’s behind many of Take That bandmate Robbie Williams’ hits) and co-written with John Shanks (whose credits include Bon Jovi’s Have A Nice Day).
Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that the 2nd single off Barlow’s 4th solo effort, Since I Saw You Last, is an update of slickly-produced 1990s adult-contemporary pop. Apart from the percussive piano, ‘whoo-hooo-hoo-hoo’ intro recalls a bit of Foster The People’s Call It What You Want, the instrumental arrangement sounds quite safe. No big guitar solos, funny key changes or disruptive leaps in tempos here.
The words are clunky (‘you can measure the strength of a human/by the weight of the love around them’), but they are secondary to the music. There was some effort involved in conjuring the melodies with hooks that also match the rhythm of the words (‘side-by-side’…’face-to-face’).
Face to Face is, at least musically, an effective duet between two performers who clearly enjoyed working together. Barlow’s matured boyband voice goes well with Sir Elton’s deeper, worn vocals, which add gravitas to the song. The choruses’ ending couplet ‘No one/can take/your place, when we’re face to face’ sounds as emphatic as the chorus in Sir Elton’s own 1980s classic Sacrifice.
However, the boring production and banal lyrics mean that the track is ultimately not much greater than an entry at Eurovision. Listeners may have expected something greater from two of the United Kingdom’s most iconic pop songwriters.
Despite this, Face to Face is a harmless, enjoyable pop track. It is certainly less awkward than lead single Let It Go, as it is not ashamed of pandering to older audiences who grew up listening to Sir Elton and Take That.