At 62 million and counting, rocket-fueled country star Garth Brooks is the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history. Yet, as we've seen all too often, incomprehensible sales figures generate their own forms of pathology, as anything less than multimegaplatinum tends to be perceived as a flop. The numbers-conscious Brooks was apparently so chagrined by the relatively slack sales of his previous album, Fresh Horses which sold a mere 4 million or so that he held his seventh album hostage until his record company complied with certain demands. Sevens arrived just in time for Christmas, but there's not much ho-ho-ho to be heard, despite the highrolling optimism of the title.
Fear of stumbling and chin-up homilies are recurrent, intertwining themes here, most notably on "How You Ever Gonna Know," which rises to a rousing chorus with Eagles-style harmonies, and "When There's No One Around," a song that sympathetically synopsizes the self-doubts that plague even superstars. "It's 4 in the morning/I'm lyin' in bed," sings Brooks on the latter, "A tape of my failures playin' inside my head." The real failure of Sevens is one of nerve. The album softens Brooks' attack with a middle-of-the-road tameness that smacks of excessive restraint. The usually barnstorming Garth seems disinclined to take risks, settling for soggy pop ooze like "In Another's Eyes," a duet with Trisha Yearwood, and honky-tonk tunes that sound pat and starchy ("Cowboy Cadillac"). The nadir is "Two Piña Coladas," a witless barroom sing-along that badly wishes it were "Margaritaville."
Brooks still exhibits the touch of a master country craftsman here and there, and when he's on as in "Longneck Bottles," a smoothly purring redneck rocker, and the touching "Belleau Wood," which makes a powerful anti-war statement Sevens comes up a winner. Brooks simply needs to ignore the up-and-down numbers, trust his talent and (as the sportscasters say) let the game come to him. Anything else is as futile as ropin' the wind. (RS 778)
(Posted: Jan 22, 1998)