Garth Brooks

In the Life of Chris Gaines

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When his popularity reached a plateau in the late '90s, Garth Brooks knew it was time to try something new, deciding to become somebody new: Chris Gaines, a brooding, leather-clad rock star. When Brooks' new persona and his album was revealed to the public, they were unforgiving - they didn't think that he was playing a role, they simply though he'd lost his mind. Granted, the story behind Chris Gaines -- both the invented biography and the reasons why Brooks decided to become Gaines -- is more interesting than the record itself. Instead of encapsulating mainstream pop from the mid-'80s through the end of the '90s, thereby sounding like a true "greatest hits," it's basically the state of adult pop at the close of the '90s. Essentially, the record is anchored in the acoustic balladry Babyface constructed for Eric Clapton's "Change the World," with little touches of Mellencamp rock, lite Prince funk, and Beatlesque pop-craft. While the tunes might not have much flair, they're all sturdy, whether it's the silky ballad "Lost in You," the self-conscious Beatles tribute "Maybe," the folky "It Don't Matter to the Sun," or the Wallflowers-styled "Unsigned Letter." Judged as Brooks' first pop album, it's pretty good, and if it had been released that way, it likely would have been embraced by a wide audience. As it stands, it's an album more fascinating for what it is than for the music itself.

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