Picks and Pans Review: Open Road

updated 02/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

Gary Barlow

The career trajectory of Barlow, a former member of the defunct quintet Take That, could almost double as the George Michael Story: British lad gets rich quick with teeny-bop group before going seriously solo in his mid 20s. And the parallels don't stop there. Michael's footprints are all over Barlow's Open Road. Barlow, too, sings with slightly over-the-top ardor and gives in to a weakness for silly love songs. How else to explain his sticky-sweet cover of "So Help Me Girl," a 1995 country hit for Joe Diffie? Barlow is better off going a livelier route, caressing "My Commitment" with a sensual falsetto, turning up the funk with surprising confidence on "Lay Down for Love" and actually managing to utter the phrase "drowning in my autocratic ways" without sounding like a psychobabbling nut. (Arista)

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