When Garth Brooks announced his retirement in 2000, there never was any question that he would one day return to active duty. The man himself predicted that his full-fledged return would coincide with the maturation of his children, which would arrive sometime around 2015. Right on schedule, Brooks came back in 2014 with an international tour and Man Against Machine, his first record in 13 years.
Y'all counted out Chris Gaines, but after 13 years, Garth Brooks returns with one of the year's best accidental rock albums. There's no Auto-Tune to smooth his rusty voice, so it's more weathered and honest than the man who left the spotlight. The lyrics play like a sly spin on classic Garth: On "She's Tired of Boys," he's on the other side of the May-December romance from 1992's "That Summer," and the woman doesn't lose her man to the "Rodeo" – she herself rides.
How long was Garth Brooks out of the spotlight? Consider this: When Luke Bryan accepted a trophy from Brooks at last week’s Country Music Assn. Awards, the younger singer revealed that he’d never met the older and wondered if he might have a hug. (Bryan got two.) By far the biggest country act of the 1990s, Brooks stepped away from music in 2001, saying he wanted to concentrate on raising his three daughters.
More than a decade ago, Garth Brooks did the most admirable thing any successful performer can do: He walked away. Yes, country music was shifting underneath his boots, and the pyrotechnics that made him the most vivid country star of the 1990s were becoming commonplace. Yet Mr. Brooks’s departure wasn’t a slow fade into irrelevance, but a magician’s disappearance while standing in a spotlight.
It was a troubling sign when country music titan Garth Brooks released “People Loving People” as the lead single from “Man Against Machine,” his first album of all-new material in 14 years. Presumably for this momentous release, which would be showcased on his current tour, Brooks was offered the best tunes available. (He also co-wrote three.) But that blandly uplifting first taste was underwhelming.
Garth Brooks’ name is nearly synonymous with the nouveau country of the early- to mid-1990s, which primed the gravel road to Nashville for a more pop-driven twang. But Brooks was never really just about the music—he was at heart always an entertainer. His outsize, exuberant performances were crucial to his early ascendance, and he made sure that everybody could witness it: Brooks openly supported Pearl Jam’s 1994 federal complaint against Ticketmaster, and in his early tours, insisted on lower, more accessible ticket prices, even in sold-out stadium shows.