Thursday, December 22, 2005

Garth’s Back

I have never hid my feelings about Garth Brooks. In my books he is:
1. A marketing guru
2. An entertainer
3. An artist/musician

In that order. I like Garth. I really do, but for him, it's not about the music. It's about the phenomenon this is "Garth" That's why I liked and agree with the following article.

Nashville Scene

Who’ll Buy These Memories?
Garth’s back, milking the same cash cow

by Michael McCall

Garth Brooks

The Limited Series (Pearl/Wal-Mart) After five years of retirement, Garth Brooks’ return so far has centered attention exactly where it was when he left: on his career rather than on his music.

In the build-up to the release of the new box set Garth Brooks: The Limited Series, nearly every story and every conversation concerned the entertainer’s business dealings. He signed a deal with Wal-Mart, the first popular music star to release work through a retailer rather than through a conventional record company. He announced he would put out a six-disc collection of old and new music for the budget price of $25. He marked the introduction of a bronze statue in his image by proposing to singer Trisha Yearwood, with whom he’d been living for more than three years, then married her just after his new box set hit the market.

So once again, people are talking about his brilliance as a businessman, about how smart he is at marketing himself and at figuring out ways to get himself news coverage to advance his career. That’s just where Brooks left us in 2001—talking about how Garth did business, what he’d done to his record label and how he’d turned himself into the most successful marketing juggernaut in modern music.

Back then, Brooks focused on the numbers, the sales and the crowds. Then as now, those numbers sometimes get disputed. Did he really sell more albums than the Beatles and Elvis Presley, or is there a big difference in how sales are computed now? Did he really draw 900,000 people to Central Park, as he said from the stage, or was the police estimate of 250,000 more accurate?

With his new album, Brooks’ numbers again are sparking controversy. Wal-Mart announced that the box set broke all previous sales records when it was released Nov. 23, and that it went platinum with sales of more than 1 million copies within two weeks.

Only, there’s no legitimate way to verify the sales. Wal-Mart usually reports its sales figures to SoundScan, a company that provides a hard count of retail record sales. Before SoundScan, record sales were tracked by orders and shipments, not by over-the-counter purchases. With Brooks’ album, Wal-Mart decided not to report its figures to SoundScan. Instead, the company just wants to tell people how much it sold, without independent numbers to support its claims, which is a lot like trusting a politician to count his or her own votes.

So where’s the music in all this? Well, as fans know, this is the second Garth box called The Limited Series. Some likely will also notice that, like the first set, this one takes full duplicates of original CDs and resells them with new music that can only be bought as part of the new collection. At first glance, $25 might seem a bargain for six CDs. But when four of those discs—Sevens, Scarecrow and the two-CD Double Live—are available for a buck or two apiece on eBay, it looks like much less of a good deal.

That leaves a new DVD called All Access, 45 minutes of live clips culled from past videos and TV specials with Brooks introducing each song, and a CD called The Lost Session. The latter is described as demos and recordings that didn’t make previous albums, even though it’s clear that several of the songs were written and recorded during the last year.

In other words, what fans get after Garth’s five-year absence is a repackaging of his most recent recordings, sans the Chris Gaines disc; a sampling of previously available live video clips; and 11 previously unheard songs, most of them deemed not good enough for earlier collections. Don’t call it a comeback; call it a fancy form of recycling that’ll make a retired superstar, by his own math, a good percentage of $25 million and counting.

So, again, where’s the music in all this? Basically, the new tunes tell us what we already knew: that country music’s biggest name sounds best at his most stripped-down and basic. For Brooks, that means romantic campfire songs about cowboys and cowgirls getting the job done and understanding that the meaning of life involves hard work and good love. And it also means rowdy honky-tonk rockers about cowboys and cowgirls who understand that the meaning of life involves, um, taking the bull by the horns and riding it for all it’s worth. The quality of all Garth’s albums depends on how consistently he stays within the rodeo ring. He loses strength—and relevance—just about every time he takes on melodic pop tunes, grand issues or save-the-world ballads.

So when he toasts the virtues of what makes a good ranch hand, or when he celebrates the life of his late friend, the singer and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, he flashes all the playful believability and chest-beating energy that originally connected with so many millions. At his best, Brooks represents the wildness and the proficiency of Western life, and playing the mythology of that lifestyle for all it’s worth has always won him fans.

He also does a good job on the mid-tempo philosophizing of “I’d Rather Have Nothing,” though the idea of a man who doesn’t care about material possessions might be hard to buy from a guy who just built a house that looks like an Okie version of Buckingham Palace.

True to form, Brooks overreaches on some of the album’s other “new” material. On the ballad “For a Minute There,” he tries to sell a predictable message by overdramatizing its heart-tugging storyline. He fares even worse with the arch sincerity of the amber-waves-of-grain imagery in “American Dream,” which would get laughed out of most Music Row song seminars.

Mostly, Brooks offers little indication of where he’s headed in the future because, for now, this cowboy isn’t done milking an old, though still fertile, cow.

Nashville Scene

That said, I still intend to get the new Limited Series. In Canada, "Double Live" goes for $33.50 on it's own. Plus I don't have "Scarecrow" or "Sevens". That makes it worth the $28.50 I'll put out. For *me* it is a good deal. For his loyal fans it's just a marketing ploy to get them to buy old material. But, all's fair in love and business right?


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