Say what you want about Garth Brooks: At least he's used his status as a country superstar to shake up the Nashville establishment. His newest and loopiest move is In The Life Of Chris Gaines, a collection of "greatest hits" by his newfound pop-star alter ego, Chris Gaines. It's a concept that allows Brooks to stretch out creatively, do a little role-playing, and feed his superstar-sized ego, and at times, it works. Opening with the catchy, sparkly, mid-tempo "That's The Way I Remember It," In The Life Of Chris Gaines promises to reinvent Brooks as an appealingly inoffensive pop singer. But the album quickly devolves into corny schmaltz, from "Driftin' Away" (which further blurs the line between mainstream country and boy-band pop) to the flaccid would-be funk of "Snow In July," to the limp Wallflowers cop "Unsigned Letter," to the disc's obvious nadir, the message song "Right Now." (Or maybe Brooks is parodying pop-star self-seriousness?) In The Life Of Chris Gaines at least serves its purpose, allowing Brooks the long-overdue opportunity to break out of the rigid confines of country radio, and it helps that minor gems like the rootsy "Main Street" are stuck in the margins. But the album would make a much more convincing case for the singer's chameleonic talents if, like its recent predecessors in his catalog, so much of it weren't so cheesy and watered-down.
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