Home Read Classic Album Review: Garth Brooks | Scarecrow

Classic Album Review: Garth Brooks | Scarecrow

The country star retreats to his save zone after his disastrous bid for rock stardom.

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This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Looks like Garth Brooks is his old self again — and not a moment too soon.

Remember Chris Gaines? Garth probably hopes you don’t. So allow me to refresh your memory. Gaines was Brooks’ ludicrous, disastrous 1999 bid to become a rock star — by pretending to be one. He slimmed down, grew a soul patch, put on a ridiculous wig and recorded a phony best-of CD called In the Life of Chris Gaines. It was supposed to prime the pump for Garth’s movie debut in a Gaines biopic called The Lamb. But Garth made one big mistake: He released the album. Country radio hated it, pop radio ignored it, old fans were alienated, record stores couldn’t give it away and pretty much everybody thought he lost his marbles. And as for The Lamb, well, it’s due about the same time as KISS’s The Elder. All in all, Chris Gaines stunk up Garth’s career like a dead mackerel.

With Scarecrow, Brooks is out to make things right. This deliberately unpretentious 12-song release — his first full-on country studio album since 1997’s Sevens — finds Garth retreating to his old familiar turf. There are no dance-pop grooves here, no Aerosmith covers, no high-falutin’ nonsense; just 45 minutes of the finest country and roots songs money can buy, delivered with all the downhome sincerity a man with his own helicopter pad can muster.

As you’d expect from a man trying to curry favour with everybody, Scarecrow is evenly split between upbeat honky-tonkers and three-hanky ballads. In the first group, you’ve got Beer Run, his catchy novelty duet with George Jones; Wrapped Up in You, a breezy little country-pop charmer; Big Money, a winking bit of fiddle-laden country swing; Squeeze Me In, a bad-boy boogie duet with Trisha Yearwood; Don’t Cross the River, an honest-to-goodness bluegrass track with banjo and fiddle; and Rodeo or Mexico, a propulsive Texas-flavoured roots-rocker with plenty of big twang. On the flip side of the coin, Why Ain’t I Running is a Bruce Hornsby-style number with a big arena-pop feel; The Storm is a weepy breakup ballad whose recurring weather metaphors (“She’s drowning in emotion”) are a little too similar to Thunder Rolls; Thicker Than Blood is a lazy little love ballad that rocks gently like a hammock; Mr. Midnight finds Garth going for the whole Elton JohnBilly Joel piano man balladeer vibe; Pushing Up Daisies is a big ole West Texas waltz; and closing track When You Come Back to Me Again is the sort of sweeping, orchestrated lament that guys like Brooks usually close albums with.

OK, so Scarecrow is kinda predictable at times. Even so, when you run ’em all back to back, Scarecrow has some of Garth’s most enjoyable, approachable songs in years, free of the heavy-handed bombast and pomposity that usually taints his work. Sure, it’s probably just another cold-hearted, calculated tactic to win back the fans and notch another sales record on his belt. But there’s always the chance that this time he really means it. Maybe, just maybe, if In the Life … was the sound of Brooks’ ego red-lining, Scarecrow is the sound of him being humbled. Not a moment too soon.