Garth Brooks - Man Against Machine
Despite officially retiring from recording and performing in 2000 Garth Brooks has been plenty busy, releasing compilations and the odd track here and there through a deal with Walmart, whilst playing a whole bunch of shows and most recently performing a residency in Las Vegas. But this is a real comeback, an album of new music – his first since 2001’s Scarecrow. A world tour is supposed to follow, though it hasn’t all gone to plan so far. The slightly strange choice to kick-start his return was a series of shows at Dublin’s Croke Park, which descended into farce and legal action as the gigs were eventually cancelled. Then his comeback single, the sickly sweet ‘People Loving People’, got a lukewarm critical reaction, peaking at number 19 on the country airplay chart. But that's all by-the-by, right? An album is the true test of a comeback - and Man Against Machine is a definite return to his glory days.
The title could be about Brooks himself, one of music's biggest digital music holdouts. He’s now created his own digital music website; fighting the corporate machine that is Apple, Google, et al, it's actually an interesting concept. The title track though is about literal machines and industrialisation, and it’s the core of the rock-led first section: ‘She’s Tired Of Boys’ (and the first of many guitar solos) and ‘Cold Like That’, a hard-nosed look at an emotionally cold woman. But don't worry, Brooks hasn’t forgotten country. ‘All American Kid’ is as American as it comes, while his Western twang lifts the touching ballad ‘Mom’. The fun hoedown vibe of ‘Rodeo and Juliet’ and the staple cowboy song, ‘Cowboys Forever’ are also solid efforts.
While Man Against Machine is certainly on the rock side of country, the themes, lyrics, heavy use of slide guitar and liberal sprinkling of gospel (especially on the fantastic bluesy 'Tacoma') are a welcome yin to US radio’s bro-country yang. The genre he helped define may have moved on in the last 13 years but in many ways this is the Garth Brooks that we need right now.