Chris Gaines Greatest Hits (aka In The Life Of Chris Gaines)
Capitol Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/13/1999
When Garth Brooks announced he was going to record an album of pop music under the moniker of "Chris Gaines," you could hear he collective jaws of the country world hitting the floor. I read and heard some commentaries that Brooks was turning his back on his musical heritage, and that country radio would show him the error of his ways the next time he released a pure country album.
Five words to all these people: Shut up, just shut up. Not even the metalheads got this worked up when Metallica announced they were going to work with a symphony orchestra, for Jah's sake. Calm down, take a few deep breaths, and have a glass of water. It's going to be all right.
C'mon, did you react like this when Brooks covered Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" for the movie Hope Floats? No, you recognied it as a beautiful track (as well as a faithful cover). The writing was on the wall a few years ago when Brooks covered Kiss's "Hard Luck Woman" on the tribute CD Kiss My Ass... and he nailed it. So why are people surprised that Brooks wants to dabble in the pop world?
The official title of this disc seems to be undecided, so I'm going to use what's on the spine of the CD and on the disc itself. If you want to call it In The Life Of Chris Gaines, you're not going to hurt my feelings. The final product of Brooks's side project, Chris Gaines Greatest Hits, has more than just a little of Brooks's signature in the music, so it's not like country fans are not going to be able to recognize him. And while there are some great cuts on this disc, there are some serious clunkers as well.
The first single, "Lost In You," surprised me when I bought the single - hey, 89 cents at Target, it was an impulse buy. Once I listened to it, I thought to myself, " This is what country fans have their undies in a bunch about?" While Brooks sounds like, well, himself, his vocals do remind me a little bit of the late Jeff Buckley, especially in the higher ranges. This isn't a bad track, but it's hardly one to have a heart attack over.
The "b"-side of the single, "It Don't Matter To The Sun," sounds more like a track Brooks would have thrown away on a country album. Hardly a pop song, it has its roots in the country world, but just doesn't live up to the standard that Brooks has set for himself.
Chris Gaines Greatest Hits has some unbelievably great tracks on it. "Right Now," another song getting airplay these days, seems to be a combination of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" stream-of-consciousness listing with the sensibility of The Youngbloods's "Get Together". It's a nice combination, and is the best selection for a single so far. Likewise, "Digging For Gold" reminds me of later-day Bad Company in a way, and it has Gaines/Brooks/the-artist-we-no-longer-refer-to/whatever he's calling himself locked into a solid storytelling mode - hmm, not unlike his country days. Interesting.
Other tracks that are sure to make your eyes open wide in support of Brooks include "Snow In July" (relax, the funk influence is more soul, and it's a helluva lot more natural than seeing Brooks as Gaines in those Spandex pants in the booklet - yeesh) and "Unsigned Letter".
But there are mistakes on Chris Gaines Greatest Hits. "My Love Tells Me So," made up to be Gaines's first single way back when, just reminds me of everything that was wrong with pop in the '80s, and is one you shouldn't feel guilty about skipping. "White Flag" and "Way Of The Girl" both seem to be tracks that have no direction, making sure the listener gets lost while they're playing.
I will not stand here and say that Brooks has no right to delve into pop; he proves on some of these tracks (admittedly, Brooks had no hand in the songwriting) that he's got the ability to do it well. But he also makes some big mistakes - and those, not the successes, are what the pundits are going to remember. "Sure, you topped the charts with 'Right Now,' but what about those three flops? We told you!" (Insert your scene of gratuitous violence here.) That might not be fair, but when was the last time the naysayers played fair?
Chris Gaines Greatest Hits is not the disaster some people were predicting, nor is it the masterpiece that some would like us to believe it is. What this album is, in the end, is a slightly hesitant first step into a new musical world for Brooks that succeeds more often than it fails - but when it stumbles, it falls hard.