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+