You can’t overstate just how big a star Garth Brooks was in the early 1990s. On the strength of albums like 1990 breakthrough “No Fences” and 1991’s “Ropin’ the Wind” — both of them near-perfect platters that appealed to country and rock fans alike — Brooks helped usher in arena country and was one of the most popular and recognized figures in all of music.
Brooks continued to churn out platinum records for the remainder of the decade but soon fell victim to hubris. In 1999 he adopted the alter ego Chris Gaines — complete with new clothes, a new look and a fictional biography — and released a pop/rock album. “In the Life of Chris Gaines” is not an awful album, but it made Brooks a punch line. He even went so far to host “Saturday Night Live” as himself, with Chris Gaines as the musical guest. Seriously.
Brooks “retired” from the business after 2001’s underappreciated “Scarecrow” and spent the next decade-plus out of the spotlight. Well the 52-year-old Brooks has decided to get back on the horse with the release of “Man Against Machine,” his first album of new material in almost 13 years. It’s a good-but-not-quite-great album that will please his fans and do nothing to tarnish his legacy.
Though there are no classic cuts like “Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls” or “Unanswered Prayers,” Brooks delivers the goods with keepers “She’s Tired of Boys,” “All-American Kid,” “Rodeo & Juliet,” Midnight Train,” “People Loving People” and “Tacoma.” With 14 songs clocking in at almost 58 minutes, “Man Against Machine” overstays its welcome by about a third — but it’s sure nice to have ol’ Garth back again. (Jeffrey Sisk)