Written by Michael Busbee, Lee Thomas Miller & Chris Wallin
There is no nuanced way to say it. Garth Brooks’ long anticipated comeback single is really bad with a little bit of good to keep it from being really, really bad.
We’ll start with the good. The message and concept of the song is admirable and hits my personal sweet spot of songs that promote love, peace and goodness in the world. He posits that it’s simply people loving people that will make the world better. It’s a simplistic view of things, but a sweet one that I can get behind on a basic level. In fact, the lyrics are well constructed and not even too cloying to sell the sentiment, which is a difficult line to balance.
But where the song goes bad is the part where it’s difficult to even hear those well constructed lyrics due to a loud, indistinct production. Despite Brooks’ attempts to sing-shout over the blaring guitar, which happens to be of no service to the song, it takes a few listens to be able to parse out the words, not to mention that Garth’s shouting takes all of the typical warmth out of his voice.
Ultimately, the cluttered production, the imbalanced engineering and the obscured vocals turn something that could’ve been an inspiring anthem into a terrible mess.
After being immersed in Shovels and Rope’s new crisply produced and brightly engineered album for the past two weeks, which was actually recorded in their garage on a shoestring budget, I just don’t have a lot of leeway to give to somebody who is arguably the biggest superstar of country music and beyond. I at least expected his 2014 recording to hold up to those of his Allen Reynolds-produced nineties albums, but was disappointed by what sounds like a garage recording instead. Something is backwards here.
Rather hard-hitting review, I must say. I must also, though, agree to a great extent. I know that the Garthmeister likes to do things big (after all, that’s been one of his trademarks for all the time he’s been around), but sometimes a touch of subtlety is what’s really required, and I don’t know that he’s ever really understood that completely.
And while some may disagree with me on this, I feel that so much of what has gone on in country music in the last twenty years, with it becoming mostly arena rock with twang, can be traced to Garth, at least insofar as his stage spectacles go.
I must say I was quite disappointed. While it wasn’t as terrible as it possibly could have been (could you imagine Garth Brooks’ bro-country? YUCK), it wasn’t the return to 90s-style country that I was hoping for.
I also wasn’t really keen on the super-sappy message either. It seems like he and his wife both had that idea. “Prizefighter” was, in my opinion, trying way too hard to hit the emotional buttons, just like this song. Both have terrible production that makes it even worse. Super disappointed in what I was hoping would be a one-two punch for the return of good country music.
My main issue is Garth’s thin vocals. Sounds like he’s straining in parts.
Otherwise it’s not bad, love the melody and love the message. Still give it a high C+/low B-
I could barely tell that was Garth’s voice. Is it his age? I don’t know. The production is indeed a “terrible mess,” but it is actually somewhat restrained in the context of today’s market. It will be interesting to see how this fares on country radio. There are enough diehard Garth fans, come rain or shine, that it may actually do well.
Great review. Absoliutely agree. If Garth is offering this song as a single, or better a free download, I’d still pass. I want music, not noise. Drop those whoa, whoa, whoas too. As Eric mentioned, a little subtlety please. And more posts like this from Leeann.
It is Garth, unquestionably, but boy, are you guys right. The production is a mess, it literally drowns out Garth. Also, the whole songs feel too much by the book and the “whoa whoa” line doesn’t help much. This would have been a solid B effort for someone like Luke Bryan (I don’t know why, but it sounds like one of his songs to me), but a D for Garth.
So when will Kevin be reviewing Trisha’s new single? And may I add I completely agree with this review.
…michael jackson sounds rather garth on this one.
Kevin, you might be on to something.
Corey, I haven’t been able to find audio of Trisha’s song yet. I’ve seen reviews of it with a youtube link, but the link says that the video has been taken down due to copyright infringement.
Yearwood audio (need an AllAccess account but it’s free to sign up):
Thanks, Markus. That used to be my go-to place to listen to singles, but I’ve forgotten about it since I stopped purposely listening to most singles.
I love that AllAccess website too! There’s so much cool information and chart stuff for music geeks like me!
I agree that this release is a bit disappointing. I was hoping he would use his first release as a chance to get a cool traditional song back on radio.
I am really interested to see the video he makes for this song. I wonder if it will be like a 2014 version of the “We Shall Be Free” video. I think that would be cool. I do give Garth credit for at least kind of acknowledging current events and addressing them in a song. Most current country acts totally ignore everything that’s happening in the world. It’s nice that somebody is trying to make music that is kind of relevant to society today.
Nicely done, Leeann! Always love reading new reviews from you!
The production is, as you said, a mess. It’s like if Jackson Browne had been recording during the height of the Loudness Wars. Which is to say that it sounds “country” only marginally and sounds terrible from an engineering standpoint.
It’s the engineering that likely ruined the vocal track, too. I’ve always been a fan of Brooks’ voice, but this is a prime example of one of his most significant limitations: He sacrifices the quality of his vocal tone when he’s trying to project a louder volume. Here, it sounds like he’s having to shout to be heard over a mix that’s too loud, so he ends up with an unpleasant, tinny quality to the tone of his voice.
As for the song itself: It’s exactly what I expected it to be after finding out the title. Social Justice Warrior Garth isn’t my favorite of his personae. I mean, he’s never gone as cloying or manipulative as Martina McBride, but he still goes too heavy-handed for my liking, even when I agree with his perspective. It’s a fine enough song and is better than a full 90% of the current top 40, but that’s less a reflection on the song’s merits than on the market Garth has returned to.
I don’t know that I’d criticize G.B. for being a Social Justice Warrior; after all, that’s basically been an extreme rarity in country music throughout its history. It’s just that here I feel he needs to be more subtle about it than doing the typical arena-rock-with-twang thing.
I just wish singers would go back to singing good songs. Stop trying to be topical and just find good songs. This is not a bad song (I would give it a C+), but its rather bland and is clearly trying too hard to be topical. I understand he REALLY wants to be on the radio so I get it, but please someone somewhere just find that great song to sing.
I have to say, I agree with Erik that subtlety has never been Garth’s strong point. That has probably been a big reason for his success, and his material was usually good enough to overcome it back in the 90s. This, though…his heart is in the right place, but yeesh. Maybe it’ll sound better live. But…yeesh.
The vocals are weird, too. I listened to that opening line a dozen times, and I still cannot figure out what he’s saying. I had to finally look it up.
Oh, no. I certainly would not call Garth Subtle. Also, Garth can sometimes be difficult to understand. for the longest time, I had no idea what he was singing when he was singing “men” in “Papa Loved Mama.” I had to look up the words for this song too.
I had the same problem you did with that word in “Papa Loved Mama”. I mentally went through the possible rhymes and went to the Internet for confirmation.
It was mid-nineties when I heard that song for the first million times on the radio as a kid. Since it was before I had internet, it wasn’t until I was able to get the album that I was able to figure out the word.
That is one of the few perks of living in today’s world. The Internet.
Garth is offering this song as a single,i am surprised. A song should have lyrics and good music, not just noise. So i agree with review.
The average radio station is using no fewer than six processors for their sound and now I hear the same with internet. So after Garth gets pushed through that kind of audio blender even a garage recording can sound like it was recorded at Spector’s Wall of Sound.