My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review – Eric Church – ‘The Outsiders’

eric-church-the-outsidersWhen it comes to reviewing new releases, my philosophy is to tackle albums by artists for which I’m a fan opposed to critiquing records by artists that I actively can’t stand. That way the review isn’t a one-sided analysis based solely on an already established dislike for the artist or the music. I don’t usually like to waste my time on releases that are more of the usual mainstream drivel and don’t have the slightest chance of being anything other than trend-following fodder designed for maximum airplay on the ever shrinking playlists of country radio.

That being said, I’ve been an Eric Church fan since “How ‘Bout You” in 2006. While that might not have been my favorite song, I loved “Two Pink Lines” and “Guys Like Me.” From then on, I’ve enjoyed the majority of his singles and count Chief among the best mainstream releases this decade. Church has always been an original who follows the beat of his own drum and I wholeheartedly respect him for being his own man in a sea of interchangeable sameness.

But now it seems the biggest side effect of his success is overblown ego. Instead of using Chief as the platform from which build a follow-up record, he’s disregarded it completely and crafted what’ll likely be one of the most polarizing albums to come out of Nashville this year from a genre heavyweight. The Outsiders defies logic with a decidedly noncommercial sound that alienates the masses in favor of playing to whomever you would call the group that shares in his odd vision.

When listening to the album, which the majority of critics have referred to as “groundbreaking,” I kept searching for those more normal moments, songs like “Springsteen” or even “Love Your Love The Most” that I could easily enjoy (or see on country radio as potential singles). While they were hard to find, thankfully they are there in some form or another.

“Talladega,” co-written by Church and Luke Laird, is the most conventional and thus the album’s strongest moment overall. A story of friendship, the tune centers around five friends and their unforgettable times together at the famed racetrack. It’s a near perfect slice of rock-country and a song that wouldn’t have been out of place on Tim McGraw’s Set This Circus Down.

Church teams up with his “Springsteen” co-writers Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tendell for “Roller Coaster Ride,” a more progressive experience sonically, but a darn catchy tune with a nice hook (“Since you had to go, I’ve been on a roller coaster ride”). Also appealing is drinking song “Cold One” in which a man is lamenting the sudden end of a relationship when his girl leaves him ‘one beer short of a twelve pack.’ The track would’ve been a home run had Church and producer Jay Joyce kept the ear-catching backwoods arraignment that opens the track. When it morphs into the progressive hip/hop meets EDM mess towards the second verse, I’m all but lost. But the writers (Church, Hyde, and Luke Hutton) have written a fantastic lyric, and that about saves the whole thing.

As a general rule, Church is often better lyrically than sonically. Often, his best songs (think “Creepin’”) are as loud and obnoxious as they are lyrically inventive and original. That’s why I was kind of upset when the title track dropped last fall and left me cold. “The Outsiders” has since grown on me lyrically, but I still hate the heavy metal breakdown towards the end. Thankfully I do love second single “Give Me Back My Hometown” warts and all. It’s a far cry better than almost everything currently on country radio and one of the most exciting songs released so far this year even though it doesn’t have much to do with country music beyond Church’s audible twang.

The only other song on the project I can confess to liking even a little is “Broke Record,” since it is catchy although it wears thin after repeated listenings. The rest of the project, unfortunately, is a mess. Church mumbles his way through “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” and thus renders the lyric impossible to understand. “Like A Wrecking Ball” features Church’s voice marred in an annoying echo effect, “That’s Damn Rock and Roll” is the dictionary definition of dreck, “Dark Side” is too moody, “Devil, Devil” is just awful, and “The Joint” is too hip/hop inspired (if that’s even what you call it) for my taste.

Given my admiration for Church as an artist, I wanted to love this album. But too many of the songs left me wishing for the formula he perfected with Chief , which rightfully won the CMA Album of the Year trophy. The Outsiders is an uneven album at best, heavy on experimentation and light on good quality music. But thankfully Church manages to keep his head out of the gutter for at least some of the tracks, and if his label is smart, those are the ones that’ll be sent to radio for a shot at heavy rotation airplay.

Grade: C

2 responses to “Album Review – Eric Church – ‘The Outsiders’

  1. Six String Richie March 6, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I can’t understand why people are calling this revolutionary. Yes, it sounds different than a lot of what’s on country radio but most of the songs aren’t good. Different doesn’t always mean good. It reminds me of Sugarland’s “The Incredible Machine.” It was different but not good. Also, both albums featured heavy ’80s influence.

  2. Ken March 6, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Why tortue yourself by listening to the horrible crap that masquerades as country music today? Since the turn of the century it’s been a downhill slide for a genre that was formerly filled with rich songs about life & love. Heart-touching songs explored all of the facets of adult reality and told wonderful stories about unforgettable characters. No more. Country music is now a shallow cesspool filled with souless & clueless manufactured artists that turn out endless dreck that is lapped up by their equally mindless young audience. I cannot believe that this once rich, vibrant genre has degraded into stupid redneck party songs or superficial screaming ballads straight out of 1980’s pop music. Even worse the instrumentation is devoid of anything that remotely resembles country music. Do yourself a favor – quit listening to it. Trust me, you really won’t miss it because there’s really nothing to miss.

    Here’s a suggestion for you: country music’s glory years from post World War II through the mid-1970’s produced some of the most vibrant music you’ll ever find. Reach back and explore the groundbreaking songs and artists from that era. I’ve filled my ipod with albums from that era that I was forced to overlook at the time due to budget constraints. I’m exploring the back catalog of my favorite stars by digitally recreating their timeless albums. I’ve also converted vinyl albums not available on CD to digital and have re-discovered even more hidden gems. Just imagine – great music without aggravation. It’s like country music heaven.

    Just sayin’……..

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