Uh-oh-sounds like ol’ Garth is starting to believe his hype. Brooks commences his third album, Ropin’ the Wind, with the vainglorious ”Against the Grain”: ”Folks call me a maverick I ain’t no hypocrite/What you see is what you get…” ”Get” is pronounced ”git” to rhyme with ”hypocrite,” and what we git is a carefully crafted but disturbingly self-satisfied record from the most popular performer in current country music.
On his first two albums, Brooks was a passionate performer, a sensitive tough guy who strove to understand the emotions of the women in his songs. But on Ropin’ the Wind, Brooks’ music has turned sour, his persona self-centered. In ”Burning Bridges,” he’s a heel who talks to his lover about ”where we’d settle down”; early the next morning, though, he skips town. In ”Rodeo,” his true love ”ain’t no woman, flesh and blood/It’s that damned old rodeo,” while on ”Cold Shoulder,” ”this old highway is the mistress that keeps me from the one I love.” Over and over, songs describe a moody character who’ll use any excuse to avoid a commitment.
All of this would be interesting — the daydreams of a country star whose big hat has become too small for his bigger head — if the music surrounding these lyrics were compelling, as aggressive as Brooks’ verbal sentiments. But most of the time the melodies on Ropin’ are wispy-mere country-tinged, easy-listening pop tunes — supported by the blandest sort of instrumental accompaniment. Time after time, the vague music fades into the background of a song, pushing Brooks’ words and voice forward in an awkward imbalance.
His best performances here — ”What She’s Doing Now,” ”The River,” and Billy Joel’s ”Shameless” — showcase Brooks’ greatest strength: his ability to imbue baleful country ballads with complex, soulful emotions. But Ropin’ the Wind, no consumer bargain with just a little more than half an hour of music on it, is a portrait of one morose, self-conscious cowpoke. Loosen up, Garth. C+