Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Garth Brooks

  • No Fences [Liberty, 1990] **
  • Ropin' the Wind [Capitol, 1991] A-
  • The Chase [Capitol, 1992] B+
  • Beyond the Season [Liberty, 1992] Dud
  • In Pieces [Liberty, 1993] A-
  • The Hits [Liberty, 1994] A
  • Fresh Horses [Capitol, 1995] B+
  • Sevens [Capitol, 1997] B
  • Chris Gaines' Greatest Hits [Capitol, 1999] Dud
  • Scarecrow [Capitol, 2001] *
  • The Lost Sessions [Pearl, 2007] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

No Fences [Liberty, 1990]
free-range country ("Friends in Low Places," "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House") **

Ropin' the Wind [Capitol, 1991]
As El Lay song doctors process NutraSweet, textured cellulose, and natural fruit flavors through a web of synthbites, a Nashville neotraditionalist thrice-removed wins a nation's heart standing up for the studio-pop verities. After scoring one of those songfests Nashville sneaks past us urbanites in 1989, he bet the farm on the follow-up and won over a country audience in the market for their own style of schlock. Here, Backed by apparently living session men as he imitates now Merle, now George (Strait), now Charlie (Daniels), he picks sure-shots from the if-you-say-so rebellious "Against the Grain" to the if-you-say-so soulful Billy Joel cover, and now and then he helps write one: the light-hearted death-to-cheaters yarn "Papa Loved Mama," or the marriage counselor's theme "We Bury the Hachet" ("And leave the handle stickin' out"). Last album he landed only three; this time there are maybe six, plus a couple of marginals. Ergo, this one's twice as good. A-

The Chase [Capitol, 1992]
Burdened by the responsibilities he believes come with success, Brooks leads with the first song in Nashville history to inveigh, however discreetly, against not just racism but homophobia. There's nothing as wicked as "Papa Loved Mama," which didn't bat an eye when mama fucked around or papa ran her over with his truck. But "Somewhere Other Than the Night," about sex on the farm, and "Learning to Live Again," about a divorcé's blind date, typify the smarts of a guy who knows not all suburbanites are as stupid as Michael Bolton believes. Having mastered the kind of nice-guy aura that has escaped pop superstars since the days of Como and Cole, Brooks could yet get away with being a liberal. B+

Beyond the Season [Liberty, 1992] Dud

In Pieces [Liberty, 1993]
His crusade against the used-CD scourge puts him up there with Rudy Giuliani on the ever-growing list of public figures who could have gone either way and promptly went that, and like Rudy, he wants the world to know that he has no use for the welfare crowd. Nor is his music getting any purer. But it is getting Garther, which means it may soon approach wonder-of-nature status--if there's anybody trying to stuff bigger emotions into a song, he or she is a lot crazier than this professional entertainer. As garish as their titles, "Standing Outside the Fire" and "The Red Strokes" won't convert skeptics. But that kind of middle-class heat is what he's about. When he calls his Baton Rouge honey every hundred miles, you can feel his dick throbbing--probably even if you don't have one yourself, which is of course the idea. And when he constructs a soap-opera plot about how an adultery connects to a random suicide, he enters passion's twilight zone. A-

The Hits [Liberty, 1994]
Ahh, get over it. For one simple reason: if you shut him out, if you let it bother you that he's full of shit, your sex life will suffer. Especially compared to Garth's, which last time the Enquirer checked was still with one woman, although songs like "Last Summer" (cowritten by his wife, who must do her share of fantasy work) keep him in touch with his urges. He enjoyed his amazing run, summed up for the cynical set by this 18-track stocking-stuffer, because he has the most voracious emotional appetite of anyone to hit pop music since Aretha Franklin, and because he's such a perfectionist that he always threads his big feelings through the eye of a succinct narrative or sentiment. I just wish he'd announced for the Senate when David Boren retired. A

Fresh Horses [Capitol, 1995]
A little heavy-handed (all right, a little more heavy-handed), with three rodeo songs and a big fat Irish anthem that won't be to everyone's taste (all right, your taste). Don't matter, because he's so far from the schlock phony he's taken for--so open-hearted, so extreme, so sui generis--that all but a couple of tracks do his thing even when he's protesting too much (which, all right, may be his thing). Cute trick: the two about marriage explain his weakness for bucking broncos. B+

Sevens [Capitol, 1997]
Hyped into what may be the least label-profitable quintuple-platinum album of all time, this is the confirmation of everything Garth-haters believe. But for those with the heart for his avid ways, what happens is an old alchemical switch--where before he channeled his drive to succeed into the emotion of the song, transmuting his ambition as he intensified his music, now his loony need to maintain his unreal numbers distorts material that would be better off without him, or at least it. Not counting "Two Piña Coladas" (Jimmy Buffett, get outta his way), the songs are exceptional, but hearing past the gulping self-parody of his "interpretations" takes so much out of you that it's hard to tell. If that means the perfect divorce song "She's Gonna Make It" is lost to history, NOW should lodge a protest--or work out some kind of cross-promotion, I don't know. B

Chris Gaines' Greatest Hits [Capitol, 1999] Dud

Scarecrow [Capitol, 2001]
still hungry after all that platinum ("Big Money," "Pushing Up Daisies") *

The Lost Sessions [Pearl, 2007]
"Please Operator (Could You Trace This Call)" Choice Cuts

See Also