The Hodgepodge: The Return of Garth Brooks Has Fallen Well Short of Expectations

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When Garth Brooks announced he was returning to country music last year, many expected it to be one of the biggest stories of the year in music. After all Brooks is one of the highest selling artists of all-time and was the undisputed face of country music in the 90s. Expectations were set high and many thought he could be a voice of reason in a genre that has no leadership or direction. I was certainly one of those people too. As I said in my review of his comeback album last year, I considered Taylor Swift to be the only current artist in the same range of Brooks’ icon status. Here’s how I led off my review of Man Against Machine:

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.

Sometimes I’m right on with my predictions. This time I was wrong. Man Against Machine has achieved platinum status, but it took longer than anyone predicted and Taylor Swift outsold Garth by a lot. As of April 29, there have been 626,100 copies of Garth’s comeback album sold. Originally industry insiders predicted that 250,000-300,000 copies would be sold in the first week. Instead only 119,000 copies of the album were sold. Pretty disappointing numbers for an artist some hold in the same regard as Elvis and Michael Jackson. His sales are good compared to the average, as Man Against Machine was one of the top ten highest selling albums in country music in 2014. But that really isn’t saying much considering we’re talking about Garth Brooks and the current state of country music sales is in the dumps.

For the majority of 2014 radio struggled to find substance to put on the radio and many felt Garth could solve this problem. He was the king of country radio in the 90s after all. Instead Garth has been non-existent at country radio since his return. If you’re a country music fan, who for some reason only keeps up with the genre through radio you would have no idea Garth even returned. The first single, “People Loving People,” peaked at #19 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. The followup single, “Mom,” did even worse, as it peaked at #32 on the Airplay chart. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Brooks told the outlet that he doesn’t know when his next single is coming out. Garth says he is uncertain because of the shakeup in leadership at Sony Music Nashville, as now former CEO Gary Overton has left.

Nobody wants to say it, although many are thinking it. I have no problem saying it though: 2015 Garth Brooks is completely out of touch with the music industry. He may have been a brilliant marketer and entertainer in the 90s, but it’s a completely different game in 2015. There are so many things Garth has done wrong since his return I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with his singles. First off his reasoning for holding off on a third single because of a leadership shakeup at Sony Music Nashville is complete bullshit. Chris Young just released a new single and he’s on the same label as Garth. Miranda Lambert and Jake Owen are both set to release new singles within the next month. Garth doesn’t want to admit that he completely botched the first two single choices. Man Against Machine certainly wasn’t a great album, but it was solid and contained a few fine single choices to release to radio.

Garth blindly thought he could make “People Loving People” another “We Shall Be Free” and this blew up in his face. “People Loving People” is even more generic and bland than “We Shall Be Free.” “Mom” is even more milquetoast and vanilla. Everyone knew this single was dead on radio at arrival. It was maddening to see him choose these as singles, as they’re arguably the two worst songs on the album. I think the album’s title track, “Midnight Train” and “Cold Like That” would all be great single choices. The album’s title track could especially do well at radio with its working class theme and catchy rhythm. It’s also more rock than country sounding. This should easily be the third single choice, but instead he’ll probably choose the cheesy and cliché “All-American Kid,” which is way too country for the current radio environment to succeed.

As bad as his single choices have been and the poor radio performance to show for it, there’s something hurting him even more than his lack of radio presence. It’s his refusal to embrace streaming and YouTube. Every other artist out there releases their music to YouTube because it’s smart and how many people find music nowadays. Every other artist also has their music available on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon because once again it’s just the right thing to do. This how most people consume music nowadays. I bet 95% of my readers get their music through these outlets. As admirable as Garth’s crusade is to preserve the concept of albums and selling music in this way, it’s really hurting him. Singles are the new albums. Artists today focus on making great singles over great albums because it’s easier to pull off. Even though I buy the bulk of my music as an entire album, I know I’m in the minority.

Back to the YouTube subject, some artists get big mostly through this outlet. A non-country example is the a cappella group Pentatonix. Their brilliant covers of hit songs helped many people discover them. Another non-country example is hip-hop artist Lunchmoney Lewis, as his video for his hit single “Bills” has gotten over 10 million views as of this writing. Lewis was a complete unknown coming into 2015 and now he has a hit single, mostly thanks to YouTube. Garth is cutting off an entire outlet that could not only boost his single sales and radio airplay, but introduce him to a whole new generation of listeners. Many younger listeners have no idea who Garth Brooks is and really don’t care. Garth isn’t on YouTube or iTunes, so he’s completely off the radar in their minds. You can’t buy just his singles, so there’s another turnoff. Throw in the fact you can’t stream his music at all before listening and it perfectly explains why Brooks is in the situation he’s in. His GhostTune store is the Zune to Apple’s iPod.

Garth is trying to do things his own way in 2015 and it simply isn’t going to work his way. Most people are no longer driving to Walmart to buy a CD and instead purchasing their music online digitally. Digital is the name of the game. Garth said this himself in an interview with CMT. Why aren’t you following your own words, Garth? It’s pretty simple: ditch GhostTunes, join iTunes, make your music available for streaming, allow your music to be sold individually instead of as a whole album, and pick better singles. Brooks can still be a factor in 2015 and make the impact on country music we all envisioned he could. But he needs to make changes quickly. They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but Garth better if he wants to be relevant again.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Whitey Morgan is releasing his much-anticipated Sonic Ranch album to the public next Tuesday. I’ve had an early copy for months and I’ve been dying to review it here on the site. This is an album you do not want to miss out on, so stay tuned for my review on it next week.
  • Jon Pardi is releasing an EP next week titled The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These are songs I’m assuming didn’t make the cut for his debut album Write You A Song. We haven’t heard a new single from him for a while, so I’m guessing there will at least be one new single from this EP. We’ll definitely a review on this.
  • Kelsea Ballerini is releasing her debut album The First Time next Tuesday. Based on what I’ve heard and seen from Ballerini, I’m not that excited about it. She’s proven to be the female equivalent of Sam Hunt to this point with her brand of pop music being marketed as country music.
  • Mickey Guyton announced this week that she’s releasing a self-titled EP on May 26. Unlike Ballerini, I’m excited to hear new music from Guyton. In a perfect world her single “Better Than You Left Me” is on the cusp of the top ten instead of “Love Me Like You Mean It.” This one will definitely get reviewed.
  • Luke Bryan is releasing his new single from his new upcoming album next Tuesday. As everyone speculated, it’s called “Kick The Dust Up,” a Dallas Davidson co-written song. I can only imagine how bad this song is going to be.
  • Chris Young just released his new single “I’m Comin’ Over,” which is the first track of his new upcoming album set to be released this fall. You’ll see my review on it soon.
  • Toby Keith’s new album is coming out on June 26 and it’s titled 35 MPH Town. I wonder if he acts like a grumpy old Baby Boomer throughout it like the album’s title track?
  • Steven Tyler just released his first country song, “Love Is Your Name.” Believe it or not, it’s actually not terrible. We’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Kid Rock is releasing a single to country radio titled “First Kiss,” off of his new album. This is nothing new, as a few years ago “All Summer Long” was a big hit on country radio and Kid Rock knows how to make money. I’m curious to see how well this does on the Airplay chart.

Throwback Thursday Song

Alan Jackson – “Chattahoochee” – The warm weather is coming and summer is just around the corner, so I thought why not choose one my favorite summer country songs. Fun and traditional don’t have to be mutually exclusive, bro country artists. Plus there’s no other video where you can see Alan Jackson on water skis!

Non-Country Song of the Week

Adele – “Take It All” – After having a great conversation with Noah in the comments section of last week’s Hodgepodge about Adele and the impact she could have in country music, I went back and listened to her 21 album. It’s as good as I remembered and instead of pointing out one of her great singles, I instead chose to point out a great album cut, “Take It All.” The piano play is top-notch and Adele’s voice is just awesome.

Tweet of the Week

You want to know what else didn’t make me excited about Ballerini’s album? When this was brought to my attention. Kudos to Windmills for pointing this out.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Idiot #150

It’s another comment left under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. We’re now at the point that Hunt fans are using Brantley Gilbert quotes to defend him. Oy.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

The Hodgepodge: Is Pop Radio Better Than Country Radio Right Now?

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A look at the current state of country radio and really mainstream country music in general.

Yesterday in this week’s current pulse of mainstream country music, I was pretty frustrated and exasperated with country radio. The reasons being of course is that nothing new is being tried by country radio and the songs with substance are getting harder to find. They’re simply rehashing the same old crap. Case in point: Jason Aldean’s new single “Tonight Looks Good On You” is surging and will undoubtedly reach #1 on the chart. It’s just another version of Aldean’s 2014 hit “Burnin’ It Down.” On top of that it’s a Dallas Davidson song. I mean come on! I thought country radio had moved passed Davidson’s bullshit, but apparently not.

So as I normally do when I get frustrated with terrible music, I go listen to music I enjoy. As I sat and listened to Hozier’s excellent 2014 debut album, an idea came to me for this week’s Hodgepodge. Why not take a look at pop radio and compare it to country radio? It’s a perfect time to do so when many country stations across the nation are playing blatant pop music. When Kanye West and Ed Sheeran are getting airplay on country radio, you know shit has hit the fan and country stations have run out of answers. So to conduct this comparison, we’ll take a look at the top 20 on the Billboard Top Pop Songs chart from last week and compare it to the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart from last week. The same exact rules will apply to this as the current pulse that runs every week.

The -3 score on last week’s pulse will not be used, since it’s the cumulative score of the top 30. Only the pulse of the top 20 will be used. By taking away the bottom ten songs, the pulse of the top 20 is 0. That will be the score we use to compare to the pop chart. Today you will get to see the very rare occurrence of yours truly evaluating pop music. See what you’ve done to me country radio? So without further ado let’s take a look at the Top Pop Chart:

  1. Taylor Swift – “Style” 0
  2. Maroon 5 – “Sugar” 0
  3. Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” +1 (Sheeran is awesome)
  4. Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” +1 (This song is great, despite being overplayed)
  5. Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Time of Our Lives” -1 (Pitbull sucks no matter what genre he is in)
  6. Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do” -1 (A terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  7. Kanye West, Rihanna & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” 0
  8. Natalie La Rose & Jeremih – “Somebody” -1
  9. Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – “Outside” 0
  10. Ariana Grande – “One Last Time” -1
  11. Nick Jonas – “Chains” +1 (I’m surprised I liked this)
  12. Zedd & Selena Gomez – “I Want You To Know” +1
  13. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space” -1
  14. One Direction – “Night Changes” -1
  15. Lillywood & Robin Schulz – “Prayer In C” 0
  16. Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini & Lookas – “G.D.F.R.” -1 (Flo Rida is the Toby Keith of pop music. He just keeps hanging on.)
  17. Jason DeRulo – “Want To Want Me” -1
  18. The Weeknd – “Earned It” -1 (Another terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  19. Usher & Juicy J – “I Dont Mind” -1 
  20. Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love”

So the total current pulse of pop music is -8. Wow! It’s even worse than country radio! Yet country radio is borrowing from it. It shouldn’t be borrowing period from pop music, whether it’s better or worse. Still country radio is borrowing from a genre that is even worse. There are genre lines for a reason. The only common denominator between both groups of songs is the club theme. You can thank Sam Hunt for bringing this into country music. Music about going to the club is just plain dumb and it’s why people laugh at artists like Pitbull and Flo Rida. I will say though I would take pop’s club music over country’s club music.

After this not very surprising revelation, I think I can safely say that all of radio is nothing but a vast wasteland of garbage songs. Country radio isn’t the only one lacking substance. However it’s imperative if I point out the big different between both. Country radio and pop radio historically have been viewed completely different by listeners. Pop radio is a mix of several different genres all in one place for casual listeners to hear. Upbeat, fun, party songs are the norm for pop and everyone pretty much knows this. You don’t hear a lot of songs that you would consider classics get on pop radio today, save for the likes of Adele and Hozier maybe. In years past you had icons like Michael Jackson dominating pop, but I don’t see any singers like Jackson on the horizon.

Country radio on the other hand was always viewed by people as a place to go for songs about life, love and other themes that explore deeper meaning. It was the genre of substance. You could hear a song like Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” and be brought to tears. George Strait’s “Give It Away” or Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” connected with anyone out there whoever had their heart-broken. Go back a little over ten years and you could hear a song on country radio like Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” that had a great message to anyone of any age. These are the kind of songs that made country music what it was. It was what made you and me fans of country music.

Now an entire generation views country music as a laughing-stock full of songs about drinking, debauchery and partying. That respect country music once held in popular culture has eroded away. People turn on country radio and don’t even recognize the genre. Some people don’t even turn on the radio. Sure there is plenty of great independent country music out there and sites like this help spread the word of it. But why would people seek it out? After what they hear on country radio, it makes them run away from the genre. They’ve got such a sour taste from country radio that they won’t even try the good country music. Country music fans need something to believe in and hear to reaffirm their faith in the genre. Will we get that before it’s too late? For the sake of country music, I hope so.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Will Hoge will come out with his new album Small Town Dreams next Tuesday. A couple of months ago we got a taste of what’s to come on the album and based on that I’m expecting this to be a good one. Derek will be reviewing this one, as Hoge is one of his favorites.
  • Kristian Bush’s debut solo album Southern Gravity will also be released next Tuesday. The lead single “Trailer Hitch” was a surprisingly good song, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the rest of the album sounds like and whether the sound of Sugarland is evident at all.
  • The third notable release next week and the biggest in the independent realm is Pokey LaFarge’s Something In The Water. This could quietly be one of the best releases in April.
  • On Monday, Jason Isbell tweeted: “New new album is done and mastered.” So maybe we’ll get this sooner than July? I certainly hope so. We should at least hear the first single from it very soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Jones – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” – You know how I was saying up above about how country music was the genre about life and connecting with everyday people? This song articulates that point perfectly. And it’s a song many country fans wonder today.

Non-Country Song of the Week

AC/DC – “Shoot To Thrill” – This is one of my all-time favorite AC/DC songs. The high notes blow me away every time.

Tweet of the Week

Anti-Bobby Bones tweets are always great. He’s another problem hurting country music, but that’s another post for another day.

Two iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Face Palm

Stupid EYB Comment 2

 

Stupid EYB Comment 3

 

I’ve been sitting on these gems for a couple of weeks. These were under Eli Young Band’s new EP Turn It On. The first one justifies this terrible EP by saying everyone’s going pop in country, so it’s fine. The other says it’s fine because they wrote all four songs. Here’s an easy way to determine whether or not a song or group of songs suck: people having to list reasons to justify why it’s good. People making excuses for it. A great song speaks volumes on its own merit and doesn’t need to be explained why it’s good.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!