Garth Brooks swung back into action two years ago with his first album in 13 years, Man Against Machine, like someone with something to prove. But on his 10th LP the country superstar sounds more like he’s fulfilling obligations, striking a series of familiar and expected Garth-like poses. “Honky Tonk Somewhere,” about searching for a bar where he can cut loose, lacks the necessary wild desperation, and “Weekend” is a breezy Kenny Chesney-style cocktail that’s short at least one shot of rum. The cornball melodramatic ballad “He Really Loves You,” about a man who mistakenly believes his wife died in a car crash, and the pushy-not-rocking “Pure Adrenaline” are flat-out embarrassments that mistake overkill for excitement.
As a singer, Brooks is still personable and assured – in other words, he’s still Garth. He sparkles on “Whiskey to Wine,” a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on trading in tempestuous passion for domestic tranquility, “Cowboys and Friends” is a good take on the perils of the hard-partying life, and the frisky lead single “Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance” is pleasant enough. But too often here he squanders his effort trying to pump life into flat material. What made him a genre-transforming legend in the Nineties wasn’t just charisma and energy – it was an ear for a great song.