Monday, November 17, 2014

Garth Brooks "Man Against Machine" Album Review

     Well, it finally happened.  Garth Brooks released his big comeback album.  Many, myself included, predicted a massive changing of the guard in country music, with a return to past glory.  Those big plans never really came to fruition  Garth's debut single was underwhelming and hasn't performed well on radio.  Then came the Toby Keith circa 1999 album cover and the doubts began to rise.  What was once the most anticipated album of the last 5 years turned into a barrel of worries of misdirection.  All of that doesn't matter now.  Man Against Machine is here,  So, what do we make of this album?

     There is a lot to digest here.  First of all, this album feels like Garth never missed a beat.  Is that good or bad?  Well, do you enjoy the late 90's Garth from the Sevens and Scarecrow era, or are you more of a fan of the No Fences era?  This album could very easily have been recorded right after his last one.  Playing Garth albums in sequence, you would not notice an over 10 year gap between releases.  That makes the album feel outdated in some points, vintage in others.  Some of it is incredibly good.  Some of it is ridiculously cheesy.  But, isn't that what Garth was all about near the end of his first run?  There is definitely a lot here to like.  "Man Against Machine" has a weird rock sound, but the lyrics about man fighting against the system make for a great statement song.  Garth has always marched to the beat of his own drum, and this song is a bold declaration that that will not change.  Garth is going to keep doing his own thing against the machine of Nashville and the machine of iTunes.  Good for him.  "She's Tired of Boys" is a cool tune that would make an excellent single.  Trisha Yearwood gives some powerful backing vocals to add to her husband's impressive chops.  The song is about an older man having a relationship with a younger woman, but the chorus where the female lead talks about all the things she dislikes about young boys seems to be a direct shot at the bro-country movement.  Garth is here to show these boys how women really want to be treated.  The song has a country-meets-Mellencamp sound that would please traditionalists looking for substance on the radio, but is rocking and sing-along enough for the masses.  "Midnight Train" has a dramatic sound that mimics a train and features very soulful vocals from Garth.  That word is very evident here: Soulful.  "Tacoma", the album's closer and possibly the best track, is country storytelling drenched in soul.  Garth sings it with gusto we haven't heard from him before.  It is really easy track to get into, even if it isn't the most traditional country song you'll ever hear.  There are, however, a few moments that remind you of traditional Garth.  "Cowboys Forever" is a easy-going country ballad that could be another good single choice.  It is vintage Garth.  "Rodeo And Juliet" is a old school Western Swing number that sounds like Bob Wills or The Time Jumpers.  It was very cool of Garth to include that song on the album.  He never forgets where his sound came from.  "All American Kid" is a little predictable and cliche, but it is hard not to like.  A few years ago, we might have rolled our eyes at it, but with a lack of any stories in country radio, this song sounds like a fresh-faced throwback.  The shortest track on the album is another keeper.  "Wrong About You" has an early Eric Church vibe and laid back delivery.  It is a nice little number.  "Fish" is a song that I can take or leave.  I don't love it, but it doesn't bother me.  "Send 'Em On Down The Road" is a touching song about fatherhood that you can tell really moves Garth.  He poured a lot of heart and emotion into this song, and it shows.  You believe every word.  It is a non-cliche look at parenthood.  More on that later...

     Not all of the album is sunshine and roses.  One of the tracks that has been getting a lot of positive vibes is "Cold Like That".  I am here to say that I am not a fan.  I get the praise.  Garth steps out of his comfort zone to give some powerful, soulful vocals mixed with a loud Jason Aldean-esque guitar lick.  Garth sounds great on it, and he gets credit for taking a risk.  However, the song just isn't that good.  I get why some could like it, but I skip it every time.  To each their own.  The other song I see getting tons of praise is "Mom".  Look, I have a great mom.  I love her to death.  That being said, this song is a lame ploy to get that soccer-mom demographic in tears using Hallmark lines on top of a boring melody.  It's just...bad.   And you can't make fun of it.  If you do, you hate moms.  Marketing genius.  Well, I love my mom, but I don't need a cheesy song to prove that.  Furthermore, I don't need a cheesy song to prove I am a fan of peace and love.  Garth's lead single, the big number to catapult Garth back to glory, ends up being the flop "People Loving People".  I don't hate the song.  It has an interesting sound, Garth sings it decently, and it isn't about trucks and beer, but man, it is the epitome of cliche.   Garth has always had a little bit of Bono in him, wanting to save the world one song at a time.  I wonder how many radical Islamists heard this song and decided to give up their fight.  I wonder if a rapist jammed to this on their way to their next victim's house and turned around.  I don't mean to make fun, I don't disagree with any of the sentiments of the song, but Garth thinks he can cure the world with some cliches and it just doesn't work that way.  To hear him talk of the "bravery" and "message" of this song is laughable.  I just do not get into the "kumbaya, save-the-world" Garth Brooks.  I didn't like "We Shall Be Free", and I don't like this.  The choice to make this the lead single was a huge mistake,  "Cowboys Forever" or "She's Tired of Boys" would have been much better picks.  If they wanted a message, "All-American Kid" would have been better.  I think the poor single hurt the momentum around the comeback he had going, which is a shame.

     So, our expectations may have been a bit lofty.  There are some very good songs on this album, but nothing on it seems like the anthem that will get country music back on the right course and right all the wrongs.  We should have known better.  We knew there was just as good of a chance of getting soulful world-changer Garth as there was of getting cowboy Garth.  Thankfully, we got a little of both on this album, and there are some songs that will stand out as solid songs against the current competition on radio, and return some substance to the dial.  Man Against The Machine proves that Garth can still fight the machine with the best of him, and can still be a major player.  That is a pretty solid comeback if you ask me.  Now, about that album cover...

Standout Tracks: "Tacoma", "Cowboys Forever", "She's Tired of Boys", "Midnight Train", "Rodeo and Juliet"


  1. I 100% agree with your comment about this album.
    I was 18 when a friend of mine sent me a tape from the USA with some country songs on it, and one of them was The Thunder Rolls from Garth Brooks. First time I heard about him, there was no internet or other media to get in touch with this kind of music here in Italy.
    I was used to spend the nights with the armed forces radio network on AM, and they played some Garth from time to time.

    I can't say I like all of his songs, but I can say he is part of country music history, a big part of it.
    This album won't change much about his career, of my expectations. I never thought I could have found another 'the thunder rolls' or 'friends in low places' in it, and I'm not surprised to find another 'we shall be free' or 'the river'.
    It's part of Garth Brooks, and it started straight from where he left.

    1. That's one of the reasons you have to respect Garth. Even if he did get a little big-headed from time to time, he introduced a LOT of people to country music for the first time. He kept his music true enough to the roots of country that a lot of people were turned on to it. He earns respect for that alone.

  2. I know this is not about the album, I just wanted to add that the big hits who everybody knows are 'the top of the iceberg', as we say here in Italy.
    Or, if you prefer, on the other side, there are all those songs that put Garth among 'country/pop/rock/whatever' artists, and the only (BIG) difference is that you can tell a song from Garth just on his voice. A word is enough to know the song is from Garth Brooks.

    Between the top of the iceberg and the other side, there are a lot of outstanding tunes that I think nobody could have sung better than Garth did.
    A title? 'The Cowboy Song', for example. It's simply amazing. Music, text, and Garth voice.
    Or 'Cold Shoulder'. Or 'That Old Wind'. Or one of my favorite "Uptown Down-home Good Ol' Boy".

    Garth is one of those few artists whose 'hidden' part is somehow even better than the 'famous' one.

    Forgive my poor English, it's not easy to explain.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. To me, "A New Way To Fly" is my favorite album cut. That was a great song. I also loved "That Girl Is A Cowboy".