Eric Church - The Outsiders
At last, country music’s self styled bad boy Eric Church is finally able to do what he wants. After early genre success, his last album - 2011’s award winning, platinum selling Chief - burst into the mainstream and propelled Church’s baseball cap and aviators look onto the front of US industry bible Billboard magazine. With singles like ‘Smoke A Little Smoke’ and ‘Drink In My Hand’ you’re in no doubt how Church is positioning himself - a weed smoking, hard drinking good ol’ country boy. But what he’s really got going for him though, is not just an ability to speak to the common man, but the chops to write anthemic tunes like ‘Springsteen’ and ‘Creepin’’.
The Outsiders wants to be different though, but it's only partly successful in that aim. Reaction in his homeland has been mixed, yet the first week sales will have allayed any record company jitters. Lead single and title track is as much of an Eric Church anthem as you’d find on his previous album, it just goes a little AC/DC in the closing thirty seconds. ‘Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess Of Darkness)’ is a strange eight minute, mainly spoken word piece, while at the other end of the scale ‘A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young’ is a middling ballad about a fast living daredevil who finds love. And that's the issue: the album still has one cowboy boot planted firmly on his old sound, the other risks alienating ordinary fans who gave him the number one album.
Despite the usual country music themes of broken relationships throughout, twists do arrive: the dark, almost 80s feel of ‘Roller Coaster Ride’; ‘Cold One’ (“She had her feet up on the cooler as she put our love on ice / She grabbed a beer, said "I'm out of here," and walked out of my life”) bends expectations with a stuttering, electrified chorus and mad bluegrass fiddle fest at the close. Interesting as these tracks are, the other half of the album is more traditional with the fun ‘Broke Record’ and uplifting ‘Give Me Back My Hometown’ making up for some other mid-album filler.
There’s still evidence of Church’s way with a song on The Outsiders but in an effort to promote his view of himself as a little different from the mainstream, he’s lost a little of what got him to the top in the first place. True, he's most successful here with the leftfield-leaning tracks - and you feel Church himself would be happy with that - yet whether it will keep his legions of fans onside remains to be seen.