In between cracking jokes and a crying a little bit, Garth Brooks gave select members of the Nashville media a chance to hear nearly every song on his upcoming album, Man Against Machine, during a Friday morning (Oct. 31) gathering. It’s his first album of original material in 13 years.
Brooks hosted the event at Sony Music’s Nashville headquarters for about 60 to 70 people. No audio or video recorders were allowed, but Brooks wasn’t shy about sharing his emotions with reporters during the hour-plus event. While the songs were playing, he took a seat in the front row and listened with everyone else.
Dressed casually in a yellow Nashville Predators hoodie, jeans, a black cap and tennis shoes, Brooks looked rather nondescript in the cluster of people gathered in the back of the room. When he took the stage after an introduction from label president Gary Overton, Brooks acknowledged he probably does appear too serious — something he said his wife tells him often. However, he insisted that “inside my head, I’m laughing and smiling” and was “excited to be busy again.”
Throughout the event, Brooks repeatedly used words and phrases like “sweet” and “flattered” and “letting it breathe” and often started his song introductions along the lines of “I love, love, love this next one.” It was easy to believe him because nearly every track he played over the sound system fit him like a glove.
“Our job is to bring it to radio,” Brooks said of the new music. “It’s up to them if they want to play it.”
“People Loving People,” the lead single from the album, was somewhat of a non-starter at radio, not even rising to the Top 10 on the country airplay chart. He admitted the next single seems to be up for grabs although there are several obvious choices in the batch. Brooks said about half of the songs on Man Against Machine could eventually be singles, but the other half are included to set up the album as a whole.
In addition, Brooks observed this collection is his “next music” — rather than his “new music” — because he believes his music really hasn’t changed too much. That being said, he admitted a couple of the songs are unlike anything he’s ever recorded. For example, in comparison to his back catalog, there’s certainly a more aggressive tone on the title track and “Cold Like That.”
On the flip side, the patriotic “All-American Kid” has the potential to be an instant classic, despite (or because of) its bittersweet ending. Meanwhile “Mom” — sung as a conversation between God and an unborn baby — had many people in the room wiping away tears. Brooks actually sang that one live at the event, accompanied by an acoustic guitar.
Immediately afterwards, he was asked by his representative to sing “Send ’Em on Down the Road,” to which Brooks remarked, “While we’re all in this ’slit-our-wrists mode,’ let’s do this one.” He dryly added, “Anybody who has kids, I suggest you not listen to it.” As the recording of the song played, he could be seen fighting back tears.
For fans wondering if Brooks really is too serious, tracks like “Rodeo and Juliet” (an authentic swing tune) and “Wrong About You” (a self-deprecating breakup song) prove that he’s still a master of delivering clever lyrics and upbeat melodies.
Nobody asked if he’d be making a music video, but if he does, “Midnight Train” would be a perfect candidate. The story is about a guy in a rundown motel room, trying to shake off a doomed relationship. The production is thicker than some of the other tracks but not overpowering.
“This is an epic piece for me,” he told the room.
As for “Cowboys Forever,” he observed it could “place easily among the Top 10 Garth Brooks songs.” (Yes, he still refers to himself in third person.) His voice is supple and immediately identifiable on the track, underscoring the fact he’s a natural country singer. Choking up a little bit, he admitted he was grateful just for the chance to make country music again — and that in his time off, he wondered if there would still be country music to make.
He closes the album with the R&B-flavored “Tacoma.” While introducing it, he reminded the audience he always puts his favorite track at the end of his albums.
At various times, Brooks opened up the session to questions, which led him to explain that he settled for the idea of a standard album, rather than the expected double album, after he ran out of time (and because Walmart balked at the idea).
After an inquiry about the tough-guy album cover, Brooks said it’s a reflection of standing up for himself against the music business. Then he deadpanned, “I just liked it because there was only one chin in the picture.” The crowd responded with peals of laughter.
The most surprising statement of the morning may have been when he told the crowd, “Songwriting is head and shoulders above where it was in the ’90s.” (He prefaced it by saying the songwriters in his generation wouldn’t like hearing that.) Even though he knew it would sound like bragging, he also declared, “A lot these writers today were raised on Garth Brooks music,” and as a result, he believed it was easier to find songs that suit him now.
Brooks ended the event graciously but not without asking the audience to spread the word. He also gave some details about a digital bundle pack that will also contain remixed and remastered versions of all eight of his past studio albums, as well as an expanded version of 1998’s Double Live. He indicated his older albums may resurface on vinyl at some point.
“I love you,” he told the crowd, “and thank you for loving music.”