The night of the CMA Awards, Eric Church dropped a surprise album titled Mr. Misunderstood. After making an interesting-to-a-fault album in The Outsiders, the release of Mr. Misunderstood finds Eric back in his wheelhouse. While most artists spend countless months prepping and analyzing every line on an album, Eric wrote, recorded, and shipped this album in a little under 3 months. Members of his "Church Choir" fan club received free surprise copies the day of the release. Clearly, the roll-out of this album bucks any and all Nashville trends. Thankfully, the music does as well. Mr. Misunderstood feels fresh, gritty, and unique. This is Eric Church at his best.
While most artists are adding digital synths and beats to their music, Eric is stripping his down. Other than a few electronic beats here and there, this album is much more organic than your typical Top 40 country record. There aren't 50 writers, producers, and players making this album happen. This is Eric, Jay Joyce, and Eric's road band making actual, real-life music happen. It may not be the most traditional country album you'll ever hear, but that isn't a knock on it. There's nary a fiddle or steel guitar to be heard on this album, but there is songwriting that is rooted in deep thoughts and feelings, and that is country. This feels like what a John Mellencamp country album would sound like. "Knives Of New Orleans" is a great story song about a man on the run that starts out similar to Eric Church's "Lightning" but ends up a driving rocker that ranks among the best songs Eric has ever recorded. "Mixed Drinks About Feelings" features Susan Tedeschi and slows it down quite a bit. This song has a great heartbroken feel that most radio hits lack. "Holding My Own" is a relaxing breezy song that finds Eric contemplating his two alter-egos: the homebody and "Chief". "Kill A Word" is a strong tune about the different words Eric would like to get rid of. This song makes a statement without pandering or cliches. Great writing. Also, you can hear some of Eric's non-country influences on Mr. Misunderstood. "Mistress Named Music" is a great blues song that feels like it is straight out of Memphis. "Chattanooga Lucy" is a soul song that may be my least favorite on the album, but it still isn't terrible. I've heard enough fake soul for a lifetime on country radio as it goes through this disco-esque phase, but "Chattanooga Lucy" feels real. I can respect that. On the more mainstream side, "Round Here Buzz" is a small-town song that is the most radio friendly of the album, as it features the aforementioned electronic beat. However, it has an actual narrative and some feeling rather than a laundry list. It has a catchy melody that would make it fit right in on radio, but it would be a big improvement over most singles.
Of course, there are a few songs that stand out among their peers. "Mr. Misunderstood" is killer song, and the perfect choice for the lead single. Musically, it has the same style of some of the hits of the Carolina era of Eric's career that saw him gain most of his massive following. Lyrically it tells a great story about the underdogs and outcasts that end up making the best music and standing out. I'm sure its a song that Eric has lived, as have many of his heroes. It is a great lesson for the young fans that radio is always courting. Plus, any song that name drops Ray Wylie Hubbard is an instant winner. Meanwhile, another song destined to be a single is "Record Year". This musical journey through a broken heart is country songwriting at its best. The genre was built on stories and heartbreak. The sadness around this song and the killer lines about drowning your sorrows in a record player are perfect. The melody is catchy enough for mainstream, but subdued enough to remain authentic. "I'm counting on a needle to save me, I drop it in a groove, and we go round and round and round." Genius. The album closes with "Three Year Old". This song is an ode to the things that Eric has learned from being the father to a three year old. This song is an honest and real as it gets. Eric may still be a badass, but he is also a father. In this song, he lets all of his persona and edginess disappear to show us a glimpse of the man behind the dark shades. It's the perfect cap to the album and a great song. If any father can get through this without a tear, I'd be impressed.
Eric Church truly is a Mr. Misunderstood in country music. He is too rock for country, too country for rock, too bold, too cocky, and too different. Yet, he has tons of hits and packs arenas every night. Mainstream fans love him, and traditional fans respect him. He is unconventional, but that's what makes him appealing. Mr. Misunderstood brings us back to the raw talent that made Church a star and the honest songwriting that cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Mr. Misunderstood was a surprise album, but it was a pleasant surprise. Chris Stapelton may have stole the show at the CMA Awards, but Eric's been on my ears every day since then with this record. Check this one out!
Standout Tracks: "Mr. Misunderstood", "Record Year", "Three Year Old", "Knives of New Orleans", "Holding My Own", "Mixed Drinks About Feelings"
"Three Year Old"