Monday, December 22, 2014

Let us thank Him for our food - Garth Brooks' new album

Garth Brooks: Man Against Machine (RCA Nashville, 2014)

"Mom," in which a fetus converses with God, is no grosser than lead single "People Loving People," in which the title salve rids the world of evil. He hoists one up for the hard working zombies and de facto cowboys whose idea of paradise is a day out fishing. This song celebrates the road, that one the hearth. In short, the latest Garth Brooks album could've been released unobtrusively in 2002 after his last one, Scarecrow. So the significance question is up for grabs. What can it mean for the SoundScan champion to release an album in the age of austerity/sharity? With Brooks down to three co-writes, only two tracks (both brilliant conceits) hint at an answer. "She's Tired of Boys" flips "That Summer" around. Garth is now the older partner boinking a girl "full of college" while guitar fireworks replace the requisite sex scene and a second chorus simultaneously - so chaste, so horny, so Garth. And when that girl kicks him to the curb, he wishes he could be "Cold Like That." No, Garth, no, we cry. We want you standing inside the fire. But, of course, he can't be cold like that. He's Garth Brooks! He's just saying that to ensnare us/his next conquest. It's a tactic borrowed from The Cure, King Krule, Depeche Mode (who, after all, surmised that "People are People") and it fits him beautifully. So goth, so Garth.

And here's my slightly edited Addicted to Noise review of that silly billy Chris Gaines album.


Garth Brooks: In…The Life of Chris Gaines (Capitol)
Rating: ** (out of I forget how many)
Release Date: 9/28/99

Oh boy. Where to start with this one? Brooks is singing here as Chris Gaines, a thirty-two year old pop star with black flippy hair, a soul patch and a bio. Think David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust although Brooks insists Gaines is not his alter ego. He’s a character in an upcoming film tentatively titled The Lamb about the life of Gaines who Brooks will play. This album is merely the “pre-soundtrack.” Freak – party of one? Or is that two?
I wish I could give two grades here – one musical, one theoretical.  I’m pretty sure it’s his worst album ever but it has gobs of theoretical appeal so I’ve added an extra star to compensate. This is where he finally joins The Artist and Wacko Jacko in Bellevue’s Bigger Than Life Pop Stars wing. And I say the world is a better place for it.
Here’s what I mean. I was at a wedding last weekend and the ONLY musician discussed AT ALL the entire evening was Garth Brooks and what the hell he was doing lately. Some thought he looked cute. Some thought he was nuts. But it gave us something to talk about, something even to measure our lives against.
My life is boring. I try to make sensible decisions. I worry about partying too much, saving money for my future, eating too much etc. I don’t want the same concerns in my pop music. I want egregious miscalculations and abortive career moves that will potentially alienate millions of fans. I want it to be a freakshow that I can stammer on about and use to energize my dull existence. This album provides me with that thrill.
Still – fun as it is to talk about at parties, it’s no fun at all to listen to. This was supposed to be his rock move but Garth Brooks already rocks much harder than Chris Gaines whose idea of crunch is ugly Wallflowers (“Unsigned Letter”) and cold as ice Foreigner (“My Love Tells Me So”). Every time I hear the revolting guitar shuffle at the beginning of “Main Street,” I’m reminded of how much an “organic” band can sound as stilted as a Casio preset. This should've been car-crash brilliant. But you just keep hearing the skid over and over. The only time you actually horrible wreck is on the properly hideous Cheryl Wheeler/Youngbloods mélange “Right Now.” There are works of art from Mae West’s swansong Sextette to The Postman to Slick Rick’s The Ruler’s Back that offer real pleasure while displaying enormous egos gone too far. Here I’m reminded that the alternate title is Chris Gaines’ Greatest Hits so there’s a way in which Brooks is trying to force the hands of time because he feels as if he’s losing his grip on it. It comes to us all, Garth; whether or not we find it funny or awful how time slips away is a different matter.



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