“Outsider” is the perfect word to describe Eric Church’s state of mind on his fourth studio album. On this LP, Church, a country troubadour, makes the transition from hometown boy to arena superstar, generating an identity crisis. Church spends much of the album trying to reconcile the country boy and rockstar sides of his persona. He plays with the ideas of insider-outsider status throughout the songs, as he tries to determine where his community is.
The songs on the record alternate between introspective, classic country tunes and well-crafted, stadium rock-influenced anthems. The first two tracks, “The Outsiders” and “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” serve as an example of this juxtaposition of musical textures. “The Outsiders” crosses country sounds with Black Sabbath-style riffs and solos. As Church roars his battle cry-worthy chorus, the bass and guitar trade pounding, metallic riffs that would make this track a crowd pleaser in a live setting.
Church then quickly leaves the bravado and fireworks behind on the reflective and melancholic “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young.” Church shines on this track, putting the weight of his soul behind every word. He sings about turning 36 as if it were 66 and uses a Springsteen-esque inflection to convey the weariness in every word he croons.
Church tries to blend his country and rocker identities throughout the LP. It works well in places and sounds clumsy in others. Church brings classic country lyrics with arena rock melodies as he crafts the anthemic sing-along “Talladega.” This track embodies Church at his most country, bringing potent recollections of fast cars and great friends that strike a universal chord with the listener.
On “Cold One,” the pedal steel and acoustic guitars are quickly drowned out by the drone of the huge bass riffs he brings in. This experiment in sound goes awry as the bass rhythms do not mesh with the rest of the instrumentation, leading the parts to sound clunky together. Church’s momentum stalls midway through the record on the repetitive “Like A Wrecking Ball,” on which Church, even less than Miley, fails to capture the forcefulness of this image.
While The Outsiders overextends itself, and sometimes bores the listener, Church shows potential for growth. As he continues to reconcile his identity, he gets closer to hitting his stride and attaining insider status.
Voice’s Choices: “The Outsiders”, “Talladega”
- Originally published in The Georgetown Voice on 2/20/14