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The 'Life of Chris Gaines' concept album

Review: Garth faces new music

September 27, 1999
Web posted at: 12:58 p.m. EDT (1658 GMT)

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
Special to CNN Interactive


"Lost in You"
[190k MPEG-3] or [260k WAV]

"Right Now"
[200k MPEG-3] or [280k WAV]

"It Don't Matter To the Sun"
[235k MPEG-3] or [325k WAV]

"Digging for Gold"
[180k MPEG-3] or [245k WAV]

View Capitol Records' complete 'discography' of (the fictional) Chris Gaines

Garth Brooks
"Garth Brooks in... the Life of Chris Gaines"
Capitol Records
Releases: September 28, 1999

(CNN) -- There's not even a smidgen of dobro or steel guitar on the latest Garth Brooks album. That's because Garth isn't Garth. He's playing Chris Gaines, a fictional rock singer from Australia who's to be the subject of a December 2000 film, "The Lamb."

This album -- already debated in the press, sometimes as a stark gimmick and at other times as a nervy career choice -- is billed as a "pre-soundtrack" to the film. That screenplay is said not to have been scripted yet. The exercise is called a concept album.

And it's hardly a new or unheard-of marketing device, by the way, particularly in the world of theatrical musicals. A studio album for the Andrew Lloyd Webber "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and a video for "The Phantom of the Opera," for example, preceded the productions of those shows.

Once "The Lamb" is made, there's to be a follow-up soundtrack and maybe another record or two, all featuring the fictional Gaines.

But the musical direction Brooks is taking is new, for him. Critics say he's looking for a way to draw crossover pop success without alienating his hard-core country fans.

Brooks says he's releasing the album before the film because he wants people to become familiar with the Gaines character before they see "The Lamb."

And in a recent interview with the Associated Press, he points out that he already has such vast successes to his name that he hardly needs to jump genres for more. He's even approaching the project with some humility: "I surrounded myself with people that knew what hip and cool was," he tells AP, "since I don't."

At 37, Brooks veers from his beaten path with a prodigious track record behind him: He's sold some 95 million albums. His two-CD live album alone has sold more than 6 million copies.

So on the road to this excursion into pop, Brooks may even pick up a supporter or two willing to note that it takes a certain amount of courage for a star so firmly niched in one idiom to risk, if not fortune, at least the nature of his well-established fame in a venture of this kind.

Less girth, Garth

The album poses Garth as Gaines in an eclectic collection of pop-rock songs. That's him on the cover garbed in black, sporting a kind of Johnny Rotten look. The occasionally pudgy country singer lost weight and wore mascara for the photo shoot.

The first single, "Lost in You," features Brooks singing in falsetto and sounding like Tracy Chapman. From there, the pop sound dredges up images of the Fab Four, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and others. The musical style changes dramatically from song to song, like the fictional Gaines' changing career.

For the most part, the sound is middle-of-the-road. The songs aren't pithy or saccharine, but they aren't Jewel material, either.

The most riveting is "Right Now," an unusual meld of "Get Together" from The Youngbloods and the eerie staccato of "If It Were Up to Me." It's the ills-of-society ("tattoos, pipe bombs underneath the bleachers") merged with a peace-and-love anthem ("C'mon people now, smile on your brother / Everybody get together, try to love one another right now").

Although a number of the songs are catchy -- most notably, "Digging for Gold" -- the jury is still out on whether any of them will thrive in radio. The most Garth-sounding of them all, the melancholy "It Don't Matter to the Sun," is currently getting country radio airplay. But rock stations hesitate to play anything by Brooks. Some may tackle that hurdle by introducing songs as sung by Chris Gaines.

Still the one

To non-Garth fans, there's nothing country about this music.

But his legions of country fans will be able to identify Brooks easily in many of these numbers. His unique phrasings and trademark twang can't be completely disguised by a black wig and mascara.

Time will tell if Garth-as-Gaines will survive.

But the odds are that Garth-as-Garth certainly will.

A one-hour Garth Brooks special -- promoting his "In ... the Life of Chris Gaines" CD, is scheduled to air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, September 29.

Faith Hill, Dixie Chicks nab armloads of Country Music Awards
May 6, 1999
Garth Brooks: 'Making music's what it's all about'
November 25, 1998
Garth Brooks' Christmas gift
December 25, 1997

Official 'Chris Gaines' site
Capitol Records
Planet Garth (unofficial site)
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External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

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