Do you have a piece of art, a movie or an album, that you told yourself that you liked, only to realize months or years later that you were just lying to yourself? It's an unavoidable function of human psychology that we act out a panoply* of irrationalities every day. My latest discovery of these innumerable irrationalities is the fact that we sometimes want someone else's art to be good, regardless of the facts. As we grow through life we develop affinities for things, and it seems we want those affinities to keep reproducing for us, and so it seems we might try to help those along sometimes. We want to be taken, we want something to be passionate about; we like to like things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, alas, it cannot be faked. Well it can, actually, but if you’re lucky you can’t fake it for long. In the end it’s exhausting to be inauthentic.
I just re-listened to Garth Brooks’ Scarecrow album, and I now am ready to accept it for the sub par effort that it is. Almost ten years after its release I find I am finally able to cast a cold-eyed gaze on the album. What I find is that the songs are largely soulless and manipulative. The album often seems hollow and forced. A few of the songs I kinda like, but not one of them is as good as any number one from any other of his albums. I get the feeling he went into the studio and said, “Well, I should probably do another album.” Indeed I heard an interview he gave where he said that this album almost didn’t happen because they were 700 songs in and he still hadn’t picked a single one that was good enough to record, and that's finally when he found the first one.
The best part about this is that somewhere in my bitter heart I knew it at the time that the album was sub par, but I was not able to consciously admit it.
When the album debuted I was an enormous Garth Brooks fan, so the releasing of another album was a form of ecstasy for me. I can so clearly remember listening to it and reassuring myself that it was good. But time told the truth, Scarecrow was not an album that would be spun countless times in my CD player, unlike most of the rest of his. I remember thinking “No, it’s good,” in that half-hearted way you tell your friend his open mic act was really good. Then a few weeks ago one of the songs came up on shuffle, and I was reminded of that hard to place feeling that the song was trying too hard and was pulling up short. I ignored the feeling because I didn't want it to be true--I didn't want a hero to have a blemish. But today I instead went for catharsis. It's OK that Brooks' album wasn't that great, it just proves that he is, in fact, human after all.
*Yes, of course I understand that I've signed up for an ass beating by using this word. I couldn't help myself, the Decembrists used it in their latest album and it just looked like a lot of fun.