Sappy Garth I can deal with, but Sleepy Garth? That could be a problem.
The fact that Garth Brooks is still charting at all while on the wrong side of fifty-five is an achievement in itself, but it’s also apparent that Garth Inc. doesn’t really need country radio for anything. (With earnings of $60 million in 2017 alone, Brooks can afford to play by his own rules.) Case in point: “All Day Long” rocketed up the charts early in its run, and while it hit a wall in the low teens on both the Billboard and Mediabase charts, on the latter it had started to ride the escalator slowly up into the Top 10 and still appeared to have a path forward. Nevertheless, Brooks decided to pull the plug on the song just in time to debut a new single “Stronger Than Me” on the CMA Awards, billing the new tune as a special song written (but not by Brooks himself) for his wife and fellow country star Trisha Yearwood. Unfortunately, the only tears this track will make you cry are tears of boredom, as it’s a plodding, depressing mess that completely fails to move (or even engage with) its audience.
The production is the biggest culprit for the song’s shortcomings, as it winds up being so dark and serious that it makes the song feel gloomy and sad instead of romantic and heartfelt. The acoustic guitar from the live performance is replaced by a piano (likely because Brooks wanted to emphasize the seriousness of his feelings, and union rules dictate that pianos must be front and center on serious songs these days), but the combination of the instrument’s dark tones, the song’s slothful tempo, and the prevalence of minor chords (especially on the chorus) makes the entire mix feel more suited to a funeral march than a love song. With only a few restrained guitars (both acoustic and electric) and no percussion, the mix has absolutely zero energy or power, and just doesn’t generate enough emotion to even catch the listener’s attention, let alone make them swoon over its tenderness. It’s about as boring and lifeless as a mix could be, and a master entertainer like Garth Brooks should really know better than to bum out his audience like this.
Vocally, this might be the weakest performance I’ve ever heard from Brooks. Quite simply, the degree to which Brooks’s normally-brimming charisma deserts him is absolutely shocking. It took me at least ten playthroughs to figure out all the lyrics to the song, not because his delivery wasn’t clear, but because the song is so damn lethargic and boring that my mind kept wandering off and thinking about other things! If Brooks can’t even get me to pay attention for the entire song, how the heck is he supposed to make me feel all warm and fuzzy over his love for his wife? Sure, there are also technical issues that don’t help matters (for example, Brooks dials back his power so much that he can barely get some of the words out in his lower range), but when he actually allows himself to put some volume behind the lyrics, he still sounds like the Garth of old. It’s as if he’s trying so hard to convey the depth and seriousness of his feelings that he completely forgets to engage his audience, and while I get that he’s really playing to an audience of one with this track, releasing a track to radio that basically ignores its listeners is unacceptable, especially from someone with as many ‘Entertainer of the Year’ awards as Brooks has. In fact, I’d probably feel a little disrespected if I hadn’t stopped paying attention halfway through.
But a song this personal must have some interesting details and insights to share, right? Unfortunately, no: The narrator, like millions of love songs before it, is just declaring that no matter when their significant other says, that person is the person holding things together because they’re “stronger than me.” While I appreciate the narrator’s humility here, he plows the same lyrical ground as countless country artists before them: The partner is the rock that the other person leans on, they lift the weight of the world off of the narrator’s shoulders, the narrator hopes to die first if given the choice, etc. The whole song is nothing but a bunch of fluffy, generic platitudes, and could have been by anyone about anyone. (While this isn’t always a bad thing, as it allows the listener to claim the song as their own and fill in the blanks with their own partners, the song just isn’t interesting enough to be worth filling.) It’s not a bad song, but it feels like an unnecessary one, because everything that’s said here has already been said before, and said more interestingly.
Let’s be honest: Garth Brooks doesn’t really care (at least not publicly) if anyone outside of Trisha Yearwood resonates with “Stronger Than Me,” and his great-great-grandchildren will by tying their shoes with solid gold laces regardless of where this thing ends up on the charts. Still, I feel like Brooks is venturing into dangerous territory here: His everyman connection to his fans has always been his greatest strength, and giving them a song that bores/ignores them as badly as this one does puts that connection at risk. It’s all about legacy at this point for Brooks, and this song doesn’t strike me the note he wants to end on.
Rating: 5/10. There are better love song on the charts rightthisverymoment that are more worthy of your time.