Pearl Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/22/2006
Question: is it ever -- EVER -- a good idea for an artist to include fake crowd noise in a song appearing on a studio album?
Answer: of course not! Fake crowd noise has never in the history of recorded music served any function other than to signal the artist's desperate need for his audience's approval.
Whatever else you want to say about Garth Brooks -- and lord knows anything you could think of to say about the man has probably already been said, in print, somewhere at some time -- he does fit that description.
The fake crowd noise shows up in the very first song on Fresh Horses, Brooks' sixth and most self-conscious studio album. He's singing about "The Old Stuff," you see, getting nostalgic about the days when he and the band were small-time, "tearin' up the interstate / beggin' for a place to play" and creating their own legends ("Oh the stories we could tell / If it weren't for the code of the road").
In other words, it's rewrite of "Rock And Roll Band" from Boston's 1976 debut, easily the cheesiest number that group ever recorded. Except, with fake crowd noise. Ouch.
It's hard to recover from a start like that, but give Brooks credit -- Fresh Horses does offer a few decent cuts, even if it's the weakest disc the man has ever put out. Hit single "The Beaches Of Cheyenne" is the clear standout, a well-crafted story-song with compelling characters and a nice build to the chorus. If there's ever a The Hits II collection covering the second phase of Brooks' career, "Beaches" surely deserves a spot on it.
Also of note is album-closer "Ireland," an out-of-left-field historical narrative about a group of Irish soldiers making a last stand while dreaming of their faraway homeland. It's unusual subject matter, but the propulsive hurdy-gurdy-and-fiddle arrangement is terrific, and Brooks sings it with real conviction.
One other song stands out, but the reasons are mixed. A couple of Brooks' favorite songwriters (Bryan Kennedy & Dan Roberts) rewrote Aerosmith's "The Fever" into a song about a lunatic rodeo cowboy ("I know you think he's crazy, well I think you're right / We're all here because he's not all there tonight"). Brooks and band give the song a suitably feverish workout, and the freshened-up lyric is pretty funny -- it just all feels a little too calculated, as in "If doing a Billy Joel song got me all kinds of attention, let's up the ante with Aerosmith!"
After that, there's little else worth mentioning here. The slower numbers ("Cowboys And Angels," "That Ol' Wind," "The Change" and "She's Every Woman") have their moments but feel like all-too-familiar rewrites of past Brooks ballads. "It's Midnight Cinderella" at least sheds the sense of calculation for an exaggerated playfulness, even if you're left to speculate about what Brooks *really* meant by "I'm Peter Peter the Pumpkin Eater / And the party's just begun"...
In the end, the best thing about Fresh Horses might be the album's booklet artwork, which features some truly gorgeous Western-themed landscape photography. Oh, and there's a picture of Garth leaning on a tractor. Can you say "pandering"? I knew you could.