Let’s be honest. Garth Brooks is not going to be remembered for his late career studio output, no matter what it happens to be. His early records are just too mammoth, and his most recent ones are just too spotty for them ever to compete. There’s no “Kokomo” moment in store for Garth, while the massive crowds he can still put in stadiums (pandemic notwithstanding) will use the opportunity of Garth dredging out his new material to take a piss as a de facto intermission. That’s just the way it is.
Garth’s latest album is entitled Fun, but it very well could be called Weird, or Old. For starters, you pipe it up this brand new record, and a few of the songs already feel like ancient history. “All Day Long” was a song he released back in the summer of 2018, way before pandemics and Presidential elections were top of mind. “Stronger Than Me” was the big single (that flopped) that he debuted at the 2018 CMA Awards singing it to wife Trisha Yearwood. “Shallow” was the big song from the movie remake A Star Is Born released in 2018 as well. Half a dozen other tracks have been floating out there for a while too, like the “Dive Bar” single with Blake Shelton.
Really, Fun is a 2018 record that was time capsuled, and in many respects, it feels that way. Dated, and a bit stale. 2 1/2 years have passed since the album was first promised until it arrived. And no, Garth can’t blame the pandemic. He was telling folks it would see the light of day in the spring … of 2019.
This is on top of the fact that there is just something off about the entire way Fun was rendered sonically, songs aside. For the first time ever, Garth Brooks acts as his own producer. The combination of producer Allen Reynolds and engineer Mark Miller were behind all of those monster Garth Brooks records from the 90’s and 00’s. When Garth came out of retirement, producer Allen Reynolds had gone into retirement, so Mark Miller stepped into the producer spot. Now, it’s just Garth Brooks alone behind the control board, and throughout Fun, there’s just this strange, poorly-mixed and mastered feeling about all the recordings. Garth’s voice is too high in the mix, and the instrumental tracks don’t feel like they’ve been mastered properly in a way that brings body and resonance to the signals you’re used to hearing from records, especially from the mainstream.
But it’s not as if Fun is without any favorable moments. In fact there’s quite a few. “That’s What Cowboys Do” is a great little song reminding you of classic Garth Brooks and a time when popular country music didn’t completely suck. “All Day Long” and “Dive Bar” that were both co-written by Brooks are fine specimens of modern traditional country, even if the energy feels a little forced, and the aforementioned mixing issues saddle them a bit. Deeper into the track list, “(Hard Way To Make An) Easy’ Livin'” hearkens back to Garth’s bar gig days in a good way. And what might be one of the most unexpected and welcomed tracks is “I Can Be Me With You,” which finds Garth rather favorably adopting a sort of alt-country snarl that gives you visions of early Steve Earle. This is a side of Garth we’ve never heard before, and it strangely works.
But it’s the unforced errors, and the ample number of immediate punchout tracks that ultimately doom Fun, making it only “good” when it’s measured against its peers in the mainstream. You can forgive Garth for some of the more overly sentimental tracks that have become his signature, like the previously-mentioned “Stronger Than Me” or his take on “Shallow.” But “The Courage of Love” is just so over-the-top and bereft of self-awareness, it will have you running for the hills. “Party Gras (The Mardi Gras Song)” is harmless Garth fluff. Yet “Message in a Bottle” is so mawkishly delivered in its dumb island vibe, it makes you never want to hear another Garth Brooks song ever again.
The guy is just like a walking dad joke with no percipient sense of self, and who still holds a child-like belief he can change the world with a song. And if any artist ever needed a producer to reign them in and say, “Garth, I know you and that a sentimental Cheerios commercial can bring you to tears, but dude, just no,” it would be Garth. Even his duet with Charley Pride, the overwrought “Where The Cross Don’t Burn” misses the mark, especially when Charley comes in to sing a verse, and it starts with Garth singing over him. What happened here? There is no way it could be on purpose, right? It truly sounds like a mistake that made it onto the masters.
Fun is just all over the place, trying to do too much, and not accomplishing much of anything. It’s too long, directionless, and poorly-rendered. Even the cover is kind of a creep show. The record is a classic case of needing a producer to help bring vision and focus to hopefully result in a cohesive effort. Even the way the tracks are notated is weird. On Amazon Music (where the album is available exclusively), the song “Dive Bar” is titled “Dive Bar (the duet with Blake Shelton).” “Shallow” with Trisha Yearwood is done the same way. Who notates stuff like this? Also, Fun is a 14-song album, but for some reason, there’s a empty, 2-second track at #13.
Is Garth superstitious? Is he trying to put some distance between a sentimental song in “Where The Cross Don’t Burn” and a fun track in “Party Gras”? Either way, that’s not how it’s done. You let the earlier track run longer at the end. It’s these kind of straight up errors, the endless delays, and all the other Garthness that makes being an apologist for him and the “Class of ’89” era so difficult, and makes Fun a mid pack effort even for the mainstream.
Again, it’s not that Fun isn’t without it’s moments. “That’s What Cowboys” do is what you want from Garth Brooks. “Dive Bar” was one of the more country-sounding singles we’ve heard on radio in a while. But Garth Brooks is too much of a cheeseball, and too surrounded by yes men to be given the reins to produce his own stuff. Or what you get is a record like Fun.
– – – – – – – – – –
‘Fun’ is exclusive to Amazon. Sorry, no previews available.