This greatest-hits album for the fictional rock star Chris Gaines is supposedly the opening salvo in a multimedia campaign that will include a yet-to-be-filmed movie called The Lamb. Produced by Don Was, the whole project displays a spirit of wackiness more reminiscent of Was' old group Was (Not Was) than anything in Brooks' earnest country oeuvre. The Life of Chris Gaines seems to represent the pop path not taken by Brooks, the Brooks who delivered a rollicking, Rod Stewart-esque take on Kiss' "Hard Luck Woman" for the Kiss My Ass tribute album in 1994. With a painstakingly complete fake bio in the liner notes and big retro-pop-rock hooks, the album suggests a mutation of Dan Fogelberg and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Some of the tunes here could only be hits in Brooks' fertile imagination. Much of the better material ("That's the Way I Remember It") has an appealing Babyface sheen; "Driftin' Away" sounds like Billy Vera's big comeback. Fresh off his lovely smash cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," Garth ventures successfully into Wallflowers territory on "Unsigned Letter" and rocks effectively on "Main Street." On the other hand, "Right Now" -- a socially conscious marriage of the Youngbloods' "Get Together" and Cheryl Wheeler's "If It Were up to Me" -- suggests that as a rapper, Brooks -- oops, Gaines -- has far more in common with Falco than with Eminem. But give this Fortune 500 cowboy credit for trying something different. (RS 824)
(Posted: Oct 28, 1999)