The Chase

Garth Brooks

Liberty Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The Chase is an album where you can almost hear Garth Brooks thinking: "Okay, I'm a success, I'm a star. Now what am I going to do with that?"

Never one to settle or compromise -- he'd rather quit, as we've seen -- on The Chase, Brooks decided it was time to take an even bigger chance musically. The phenomenal success of No Fences and Ropin' The Wind had afforded him some leeway to test his audience, and he took advantage of it... up to a point.

The album kicks off with one of the most remarkable songs of Brooks' career. "We Shall Be Free" was in many ways a direct challenge to the musical and cultural status quo in Nashville. There had been country artists who dabbled in gospel here and there, to be sure. But none had ever come within a mile of what Brooks pulled, leading off an album with a full-on, come-to-Jesus gospel-revival call for tolerance while touching on hot-button issues like race, religion and sexual orientation. In interviews at the time, Brooks was frank about the fact that his stepsister -- then also the bassist in his touring band -- is a lesbian, and virtually dared anyone in the notoriously conservative country community to find something wrong with that. (I don't know if the Dixie Chicks have ever given the nod to Garth as an obvious precursor to their empowered outspokenness, but they should.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The song itself is a remarkable piece of writing -- moving, cleverly constructed, respectful and I suspect compelling even to those who couldn't manage to agree with every sentiment. It's also, it must be said, the best song on the album by a substantial margin.

Which isn't to say that sweeping numbers like "Somewhere Other Than The Night" and "Learning To Live Again" don't have their moments -- Brooks has just the kind of oversized voice and deep well of sincerity you need to pull off a decent power ballad -- it's just that they don't feel like they matter as much as "We Shall Be Free." "That Summer" meets a similar fate, a coming-of-age-with-a-lonely-older-woman country-pop tune that nearly drowns in cliches, but remains afloat thanks to a muscular arrangement and Brooks' absolutely committed delivery. Garth brings similar enthusiasm to the clever romp "Mr. Right," though again the song never seems to lift off in the manner of Brooks' best.

The covers this time out don't range as far afield as on Ropin' The Wind, where GB covered Billy Joel, but they're nonetheless clever and gutsy. Patsy Cline's iconic "Walking After Midnight" gets a treatment full of gusto, and surprisingly fares better than Brooks' somewhat lukewarm run at Little Feat's southern-fried gem "Dixie Chicken." As for the rest of the album, you'd think on an album that starts with such a bang, he'd have more interesting filler than this. He doesn't.

The Chase is somewhat of a hodge-podge in the end. Throughout his career Brooks has struggled to find a happy medium between his competing desires to rebel and to conform, to experiment and to play it safe. The end result here is an album that never really re-ignites once you get past its explosive opening number. While "We Shall Be Free" and radio hit "That Summer" are required listening for any GB aficionado, you can't say the same about the rest of this album.

Rating: B-

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