As the '90s drew to a close, their most popular artist was hell-bent on shattering all the sales records that laid in his path. He had already proven himself not only to be the most popular country artist, but he held the record for the most popular male recording artist, demolishing the record held by one of his idols, Billy Joel. All that was left was the Holy Grail -- toppling the Beatles' status as the best-selling artist of all time. A difficult task, to be sure, but one that was conceivably within Garth Brooks' reach. To make sure he reached this milestone, Brooks began releasing multi-disc sets, since each individual disc within a set counts as a unit toward the final sales, thereby insuring an inflated sales total. The five-disc box The Limited Series was the first in this series, followed by Double Live, Brooks' first live album, in the fall of 1998. The generic titles of both sets suggest that both albums shouldn't be viewed as anything more than product, since Garth couldn't be bothered to think of an actual title; he just called it what it is. And the title alone isn't what suggests that Double Live is product: the elaborate marketing plan -- where the disc retails for the low price of $13.99 during the "holiday" season, where the album has a different cover, photos, and Brooks-penned liner notes every million copies pressed, where the cassette has completely different artwork than the CD -- ensures that he'll move as many units as possible in as short a time as possible (initial reports suggested that Brooks, his label EMI, and his favorite retailer, Wal-Mart, planned to move a million copies in one week.). It could be seen that this method is designed as some sort of treat for his fans, since it offers them an unprecedented selection of choices (that's Brooks' point of view), but it could also be seen as a way to milk sales out of an unnecessary album. Sure, Double Live is a professionally entertaining album with a few nice bonuses -- including extra verses for "Friends in Low Places" and "The Thunder Rolls," plus three new songs: the dedicated-to-mama "It's Your Song," the Trisha Yearwood duet "Wild as the Wind," and the rocker "Tearin' It Up (And Burnin' It Down)" -- but much of this record is either identical to the studio counterparts or offers nothing new whatsoever. Brooks makes no attempt to camouflage his studio trickery -- it's clear that the intros to "Two Pina Coladas," "The River," and "We Shall Be Free" are pasted on in the studio -- and even when the crowd intrudes on "The Fever," it feels forced, not like the genuine kinetic energy that can be captured on a live recording. Part of the problem is that the album is a compilation, selecting 25 songs from 25 different dates. Even with studio polish (and there is quite a lot of that), an album culled from such a wide variety of sources can't help but feel patchwork, and Double Live does. Despite the handful of new twists on familiar material, which will surely satisfy the diehards, Double Live simply isn't that interesting for the average Garth fan. It's the kind of record that's hyped as an event upon its original release, but will be seen as little more than a curio a few years after its release.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
feat: Steve Wariner
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: Trisha Yearwood