In the world of music there were two albums everyone was looking forward to listening to this year: Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine. Everyone looked forward to listening to Swift of course because she’s one of the top-selling and most popular artist in music today. To add to the hype she announced she left country music and that 1989 would be her first documented pop album. Regardless of the quality of the album, everyone knew it would have huge sales numbers. This proved to be true as it’s the only album of the year to be certified platinum. It gives you an idea of how bad music sales are right now and shows you why country music was devastated to lose her. Luckily for country music, Garth Brooks has made his triumphant comeback. Garth is the only other artist that can sell more albums than Swift in music right now. After all Garth is one of the most popular selling artists of all-time right alongside the Beatles and Elvis. Regardless of what I think or anyone else thinks of Man Against Machine, this album will be the second and only other album to be certified platinum in 2014. One more thing before I breakdown this album: I’m well aware of Garth’s style and his status as an icon. Since he’s an icon I hold him to a little bit higher standard than the average artist. It’s only fair. So without further ado let’s look at Man Against Machine.
The album starts off with its title track, “Man Against Machine.” This is a working man’s anthem aimed at the everyday person. It also makes reference to the folklore of John Henry beating the machine, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. The song seems to be referencing how machines have replaced people in factories in recent years and how man is the only one with a working heart at the end of the day. Despite the gospel influences, this is more of an arena rock song than a country song. The song is good, but it certainly isn’t country. “She’s Tired of Boys” is about an older man and a college girl falling in love. The college girl chooses him because she is tired of boys and wants an actual man. Perhaps a little shot at the boys of country music? Garth’s wife Trisha Yearwood provides solid background vocals on the parts of the song where the girl is talking. While this kind of relationship being discussed on a song sounds creepy on paper, Garth pulls it off. This song actually sounds country, although rock influences are certainly present too.
Up next is “Cold Like That,” which is about a man who was hurt by an ex and how he wishes he could be cold and calculated just like her. He wishes he could be vengeful and wreck love, something clearly being said out of anger. Garth does a good job showing emotion in his voice and setting the tone of the song in the process. As for the instrumentation, it’s all over the place. I have no idea how to describe it. It’s not traditional country that’s for sure. Despite this weird sound, Garth makes it work perfectly with this song and I have to say it’s quite good. “All-American Kid” is about a young man who was the star of the high school football team and went on to serve in the military. While the theme of this song is nice, it’s so clichéd. How many songs have we heard with this theme? Yes this is heartfelt, but I’m completely bored with this angle. The song does have a traditional country sound though. It’s a decent song that we have all heard.
After this is a song called “Mom.” This song is about moms of course. It’s sung at some points from the point of view of a newborn child and other points from the point of view of God. There are two views you can have with this song. Some will view it as a heartfelt song and many parents of children will probably view it this way (especially new parents). Others that are more cynical will think this is quite cheesy and borderline Paul Anka material. I’m kind of in-between. The instrumentation is solid, but the songwriting leaves me wanting better lyrics. “Wrong About You” is a short song about a man who realizes he was wrong about an ex. The song has a 90s country feel to it and that’s a good thing. The problem with this song though is it’s too generic and feels like filler. Garth’s vocals make me cringe a little on this song also. This is one of the weaker moments on this album.
Garth shows his fun-side with “Rodeo and Juliet.” It’s basically just a silly song about a woman named Juliet who loves the rodeo. It’s a play on words of classic lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This feels like a classic Garth song and the tune reminds me a lot of “Longneck Bottle.” It’s got a neo-traditional sound and while the lyrics are a little silly, this song is okay in my book. I’ll take a silly traditional sounding country song over the majority of stuff playing on mainstream country radio. The next song is a love ballad called “Midnight Train,” which is about a man who compares his love for a woman to a train. Believe it or not this comparison to a train works much better than a comparison to a jacked up truck. Amazing, huh? The songwriting is actually quite good in this song and the production is arranged well. Garth’s vocals stay in his comfort zone too. This song may be simple, but it’s one of the most solid on the album.
Garth shows his respect for cowboys with “Cowboy Forever.” This is an anthem that pays homage to the lost generation of cowboys. Garth asserts that cowboys may be gone, but their effect on the nation and their spirit still lives on in people today. It’s another song with a classic country feel complete with the piano and fiddle. Once again too it’s a simple song that Garth sells with his charisma and storytelling. These are the kinds of songs that showcase Garth’s best attributes. Next up is the first single from the album, “People Loving People.” Basically it’s a watered down and modern version of “We Shall Be Free.” Just like it’s predecessor it’s generic, monotonous and fits a PSA commercial on peace perfectly. It’s the side of Garth I hate to see. Songs like this one do nothing but pander to causes and people’s emotions. Garth is much better than this boring and very basic song.
Earlier in the album Garth paid homage to moms with “Mom” and now he’s paying homage to dads with “Send ‘Em On Down the Road.” He does a much better job with this song. Garth sings early on in the song about his own dad being there for him and then later sings about being a dad to his own kids. This song feels heartfelt and genuine. There are no cheesy lyrics or pandering themes. You could also tell this song meant something to Garth and that it’s coming from his heart. This sense of personal connection makes it one of the best songs on the album. “Fish” is about a wealthy man going down to Mexico and finding a man who does nothing but fish everyday. The wealthy man tries giving him advice on how to become a big success financially and personally, allowing him to do anything he wants. The fisherman replies, “You mean fish?” It was at that moment the wealthy man realized his advice was stupid and that the fisherman was really living the dream, not him. The song tells a nice story with a good message about life and success. The instrumentation is spot on too. Another solid song delivered by Garth.
The penultimate song on the album is “You Wreck Me.” The song is about a man in a one-sided relationship where he’s not exactly being treated right by his woman, but he just loves the way she wrecks him for some reason. It’s a pop country song. Garth pushes his vocal range a little on this song, but he doesn’t go overboard. The song is decent, but is one of the less memorable songs on the album. The final song on the album though is the exact opposite. “Tacoma” was rumored to be the first single from the album, but apparently Garth’s camp changed their mind at the last-minute. To me that was a mistake because this song is much better than “People Loving People.” It’s a heartbreak song written by well-known independent artist Caitlyn Smith and Bob DiPiero. The story told in the song is the man is trying to literally drive away from the pain he is suffering from caused by his ex. It’s a decidedly country song that features Garth’s best vocal performance on the entire album. I understand why Garth said this was his favorite song on the album. In his preview for the album he says he likes to put his favorite song at the end of the record and I think he nails it by choosing this song as the final on the album.
Despite a few questionable song choices, Garth delivers solid material with his comeback album. He was able to incorporate his old style without sounding too dated. He couldn’t help going to his cheesy and generic side on a couple of occasions, but he never went overboard with it. He also did the one thing that he’s done throughout his successful career: strike a great balance between being an entertainer and artist. There were fun songs, serious songs, sad songs, happy songs and everything in-between. This is not Garth’s best work, but I didn’t expect his best with this album. A comeback album is almost never the artist’s best work, so I expect his album in 2015 to be much better. Man Against Machine actually topped my expectations though. You can find a lot worse albums than this, but also albums that are much better. If you enjoy Garth Brooks’ past material, I would recommend getting it. If you haven’t been too keen on him, then I would not recommend it.
To preview and purchase Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine album, click here.