Eric Church's The Outsiders is easily the most anticipated album of 2014. Eric Church has slowly rose to the top of country music with music that evokes equal parts attitude with sentiment, hard rock with classic country, and silly one-liners with rock-solid story-telling. With The Outsiders, Eric didn't hold back and didn't pull any punches. The result is an album that may not be the most "country" album on the charts, but certainly the most creative and unique album in the genre right now, for better or worse.
Eric promised us that this album would be unlike anything we've heard before in country music, and he didn't disappoint. The title track (Full "The Outsiders" Single Review here) is the hardest hitting country single I've ever heard. As I pointed out in my review of the single, it is just too busy to work. The song comes across as a big mess. It's creative and unique, but it just tried too hard to cover all the bases of musical genres. Fortunately, the sound Eric was trying to create with that song comes across in others on the album. "That's Damn Rock and Roll" captures the attitude of rock and roll that Eric brings to country music. Nothing about this song is country. It features a loud distorted guitar and spoken word vocals. However, its a great modern rock track. Rock and roll has lost its soul through the years. I would love for Eric to release this to rock radio and shoot some life into the genre. "Joint" features a swampy sound with a dirty guitar and bass line and muffled vocals. This is a perfect blend of country storytelling and rock attitude. The song tells the story of his mother's revenge on her two-timing husband, and its engaging and dark. "Broke Record" has that classic rock groove as well with an interesting if not original concept. The song is easy to sing to and is catchy. The two best examples of mixing the rock and country sound comes on the songs "Cold One" and "Roller Coaster Ride". "Cold One" is easy and breezy, but is more than a standard drinking song. This one comes with regret and a little pain. The acoustic-meets-heavy sound is really unique. There's a really cool breakdown in the middle of the song that almost sounds bluegrassy. It's a nice touch. "Roller Coaster Ride" is an emotional song with a extremely catchy melody and heartfelt lyrics. The musical breaks are loud and heavy, but the arrangement goes sparse while Eric sings, letting the lyrics do the talking. That's the perfect combo of Eric's loud sound and creative writing mixed together. It just screams to be the next single.
While he can rock out with the best of them, Eric Church's sensitive side is my favorite. His tender songs allow him to let loose with his upper register, and are simply killer. "Dark Side" is a straight up country song that is masterful. It may be my favorite on the album. It has regret and pain, and Eric's vocals are just dripping with sadness as he croons through the words. If you purchase one song from this album to see what Eric Church is all about, buy "Dark Side". It's a gem. "Give Me Back My Hometown" (Full "Give Me Back My Hometown" Single Review Here) is the album's second single, and is a classic song of regret and lost love. On an album full of such heavy songs, this song doesn't even feature a drum until the second chorus. The musical arrangement is light and organic. Speaking of heavy songs, "Like A Wrecking Ball" is a pretty blatant song about, well, shaking the house like a wrecking ball when loving. Its gritty and a little dirty, but Eric sings it with emotion so that it makes the lyrics sound sweet rather than wild. "Talladega" is a easy listening song that may get a little lost on this busy album, but shouldn't be overlooked. The lyrics are typical songs of remembering the good ole days with the boys, set in the infield of Talladega Superspeedway. It has a very laid back sound that is instantly likable from the first listen. In an album full of twists, this song is straightforward and a nice change of pace. "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" is an extremely heartfelt song about a rebel child hitting middle-age. This feels like the most honest song on the album, as Eric Church the rebel looks at his wife and son and just spills his guts to us. It's a touching moment, and certainly a love song as only Eric can do it.
The biggest statement on this album is made on "Devil Devil". The prelude plays out like a horror film soundtrack, with dark and haunting music under Eric's spoken word. It is a damning message and outright calling out of the Nashville establishment. Some will say it's just marketing, some will call him country music's savior. I think both are right. Eric knows there is a group that is upset with the state of country music, and he is certainly playing to them. But to make this bold of a statement, to call the city a whore who sells her soul, Eric must believe those words. The song is a harsh and critical take on the same machine that made Eric a star. "She lurks in friendly shadows, but she's a junkie with a limp. The agents are her bookies, the labels are her pimp. I'll tell you a well know secret, about a little place known far and wide. The devil walks among us, and Nashville is his bride." No mincing words there. Eric Church has fired shots, and I'm interested to see how the establishment responds.
All in all, The Outsiders is a creative trip through the mind of Eric Church. It isn't all country, it isn't all rock, but it's all soul. It's a creatively on a whole different level than all of Nashville. If you are into the underground scene, you'd know a lot of people share these views and strive to be different. In fact, this album's delivery, theme, and concept is very similar to Shooter Jennings's approach with The Other Life. It isn't outright copying, but it's certainly creative borrowing. The biggest thing to take away from this album is that Eric may be wrong about his title, but he's right about his message. He isn't an outsider. He won CMA Album of the Year and did songs with Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Colt Ford, and Keith Urban. He toured with Kenny Chesney. He is an insider. But, that doesn't mean he is wrong. Country music is broken. It needs someone standing out front, waving that flag of originality and creativity to keep the genre fresh, growing, and firmly rooted in its foundations. Its a tough row to hoe, and comes with controversy and struggle. Many of the underground, roots, and Americana artists are bold enough to carry that flag, but they simply don't have the reach that Eric has. Eric can win a lot of people over and open a lot of people's eyes from the inside. He is a perfect position to fight the good fight and stand up for creativity. Whether it's a marketing strategy or not, the results will be the same. Eric Church is changing country music, from the inside out.
Standout Tracks: "Give Me Back My Hometown", "Dark Side", "Talladega", "Devil Devil", "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young", "Roller Coaster Ride"
"Give Me Back My Hometown"
"A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young"