Saturday, November 10, 2001

Brooks comes back, but only to the '70s

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sound familiar? Past-his-prime superstar tries a major comeback with an album mired in the past.

        Michael Jackson's Invincible? Nah, this week it's Garth Brooks. Unlike Michael's '80s rehash, Scarecrow finds country's King of Pop trying to reclaim his '90s mega-platinum status with a '70s-style CD.

        The 12-track set, in stores Tuesday, opens with the stately piano and whining pedal steel of “Why Ain't I Running,” a mid-tempo, Bob Seger-esque country rocker. If that's not enough '70s, it rides out on slide guitar channeled from “Running on Empty.”

        “Beer Run (Are You In),” is his duet single with George Jones delayed by the Sept. 11 attacks. It's a good-time, hard-country drinkin' song.

        ""Wrapped Up in You” is campfire pop, mixing harmonica and fiddle with Beatles-lite harmonies.

        “Thicker Than Blood” is a simple tribute to non-traditional families (“Our family never shared the same last name, but our family was a family just the same.”).

        “Big Money” is a fun tune on the benefits of having rich relatives with dangerous jobs. It's followed by “Squeeze Me In,” a blues-rocking duet with Trisha Yearwood. She sounds great, and Garth is pretty good, too, unless you've heard Delbert McClinton's truly soulful original.

        The lowest points come when Garth gives in to his sappier '70s tendencies. On “The Storm” he drowns in massive production — all tinkling piano, swollen strings and cymbal-splashes.

        “Mr. Midnight,” about a late-night DJ, is a smarmy, piano ballad that sounds like bad Elton John.

        “Don't Cross the River” is a bluegrass cover (with Bela Fleck on banjo) of America's 1973 hit. It's his best, least self-conscious performance.

        It's followed by the overblown ballad closer, “When You Come Back To Me Again,” from the Frequency soundtrack.

        When Garth exploded a decade ago, that '70s show seemed like country innovation. But as Michael found out last week, nothing ages faster than innovations.


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