Garth Brooks Man Against Machine
In the 13 years since Garth Brooks released his last album of original material (2001’s Scarecrow), mainstream country singers have taken his affinity for arena rock further than he could have possibly imagined, so his long-awaited comeback can’t help but sound like it’s a little behind the times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though—Brooks’ superstar status should put him above trend-chasing, and he hasn’t spent all this time out of the spotlight because he’s dying to have another hit. So Man Against Machine isn’t desperate or pandering, but it is bland and mediocre, far from the momentous return Brooks’ fans have been waiting for all these years.
Brooks still has a strong, rich voice, and the production and musicianship on Man Against Machine are perfectly solid. But there are no standout tracks, among either the bombastic arena-rock anthems or the more traditional country songs. The album’s best moments are its most understated, including the sweet, timeless twang of “She’s Tired of Boys;” the hokey but sturdy story song “All-American Kid;” and the playful Western swing of “Rodeo and Juliet,” which sounds like it could be a Lyle Lovett song.
Lyrically, the album is full of country clichés, from the proud soldier of “All-American Kid” to the proud parents of “Send ’em on Down the Road” to the proud cowboys of “Cowboys Forever.” The worst offender is “Mom,” a treacly, maudlin ballad about an unborn child talking to God. “Fish” offers up an ode to getting out of the rat race, which could be a metaphor for Brooks’ decade-plus sabbatical if it weren’t so focused on Jimmy Buffett-style beach-isms. Like too many of the album’s songs, it’s a mildly appealing, middle-of-the-road composition that could have been recorded by anyone. That’s not what country’s all-time best-selling artist should be putting on his big comeback album.