Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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When Billboard computerized its charts to reflect cash-register action instead of unverified radio and store reports, bizzers soon discovered that many metal records hit so fast they zoom instantly to number one. They also discovered that many country records sell as steadily as old best-ofs, which now have a chart of their own so as not to embarrass the fresh product. This means that country's been bigger than we thought for a long time. But not like Garth Brooks's third album, Ropin' the Wind (Capitol), an instant number one itself.

Brooks is a neotraditionalist only by association. Though his arrangements are generally spare and his sentiments often hard-scrabble, he digs James Taylor as much as Lefty Frizzell and shows off by borrowing a song from Billy Joel. Covering the bases is his specialty. What makes his voice remarkable is less its personal grain than how facilely it negotiates the range of honky-tonk grit and twang, and though Ropin' the Wind was launched by Brooks's two earlier (and still top-50) multiplatinum entries, its Nashville-styled popcraft will give it more legs than either. From the cheerful marital hostilities of We Bury the Hatchet to the feckless regrets of Burning Bridges to the well-wrought soulfulness of that Billy Joel number to the overwrought meaningfulness of The River, it's got hits for anybody who ever hated synthesizers. That's not a pop majority. But from Natalie Cole to Skid Row, the biggest pop audiences rarely are.

Playboy, Oct. 1991

Sept. 1991 Nov. 1991