After great anticipation, I picked up Eric Church's new record (okay, CD) when it dropped (was stocked on the shelves at Target) last week.
I knew right away that this was going to be judged not by how great it is, but by how perfect it isn't. With Church's body of work, namely "Chief" and the one live show I've seen, I felt like this should be a flawless piece of work and anything short of that would result in point deductions. This might be harsher than Johnny Weir at a Bugle Boy fashion show, but this isn't open mic night at the Boar's Nest.
With that tall task at hand, let's see how Eric Church and his band did, according to a guy that likes country music (most of the time) and has no musical talent whatsoever. Side note, I did get an A in Music Appreciation in college, so, there we have it.
I decided to go track by track because it's not fair to say the entire album is a hit or a miss. It's full of both. Overall, if I had to say something, it seems like an experiment in sound effects and ghostliness. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just ruins a good song. You'll see what I mean when we get there.
1. The Outsiders-
If you've heard it, you probably like it. When you hear the rest of the tracks, you'll hear a lot more talking instead of singing and wonder what the point is. Is this lyrically significant? No, minus the great imagery of whatever a regulator is. Is this going to be an amazing song performed live with tons of pyrotechnics? Absolutely. Other than that, I've always thought if you have to tell people you are an Outsider or "weird" than you might not be. It's a batting practice homerun, I guess.
2. A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young
I've heard this song on every other Church album. Okay, not exactly this song, but not far off. Stripped down, soft guitar picking, good ol' boys doing cool stuff in cars. Think "Like Jesus Does" without the whiskey and rye on the levee.
3. Cold One
When I first listened to this I thought: He ruined a GREAT song with the instruments on this one. What, did a New Orleans parade marching band break into the studio? Then he changed tempo too many times and made it unsingalongable. Then it sounds like there's a dj doing the scratchy scratch thing.
It's catchier with multiple listens, but it takes the potential of the Cold One triple (not double) entendre -the beer, the harsh reality of her leaving, and the nature of the woman herself- and loses it amongst the trombone and organ or whatever other instruments they had lying around the school's band room.
"Cold One" is a stretching an infield single into a double, and getting tagged out rounding first base.
4. Roller Coaster Ride-
On CBS Sunday Morning (my favorite show), they said Eric wrote some 200 songs while hunkered down in a mountain lodge and narrowed it down to 12 for this album. How this made it, I don't know.
The double edged sword is that it doesn't sound like too many (if any) of his hit songs. It's good that they tried something different, but synthesizer heavy track with a disco beat wasn't the ticket.
It was simple really. My favorite artist + my favorite NASCAR track = a slam dunk of a song, right? It basically gets an 'eh' in my book. (This is my book, so 'eh'.) It's soft and sentimental, an homage to good buds, which I can get behind. I can't wait for Fox Sports to ineffectively use this song to intro the first race there in April or May.
6. Broke Record
That's what I'm thinking about doing by this point through the CD.
7. Like a Wrecking Ball
Fortunately, this isn't a Miley Cyrus cover. I actually like this one and I've been asked not to turn it up so loud in the car. It's not a wild and rowdy barroom brawl type of wrecking ball. It's a promise by a singer on the road to come home and bone his wife with tremendous force. ("I wanna rock some sheet rock , knock some pictures off the wall...")
I picture some very unfortunate rednecks thinking the slow danceable beat makes it a great choice as their first wedding song.
Or some high school principals raising eyebrows when they hear this at the prom this spring.
Take away the organs and the acoustic guitar and you basically have a violent rap song on your hands.
-"Don't give a damn what these keys are for, I'm gonna knock down that front door"
-"Crash right through the front door, back you up against the wall"
-"Love you baby, take it right there baby, rock you baby, like a wrecking ball"
8. That's Damn rock and Roll
A half spoken word/half rollicking romp down a name dropping mountain. Think an AC/DC song without Brian Johnson's scratchy voice.
9. Dark Side
Drive to a state with lots of mountains and hard economic times. Park your car on a windy mountain lane somewhere and start walking uphill through the woods. When you find a cabin, look for the record player. Take a vinyl out of the sleeve and drop the needle. What you'll hear sounds just like "Dark Side", right down to the fuzz and crackle.
This is the best song on the album, with zero doubts.
10. Devil, Devil
How about instead of Devil, Devil (which sounds like a great song), you listen to 3 and a half more minutes of a spoken word prelude that name drops country's greatest singers and songs before business picks up?
To be honest, I haven't listened to the actual song more than 2 or 3 times. My car rides aren't usually that long.
Devil, Devil is good. It would make a fantastic Dukes of Hazzard action montage soundtrack.
11.Give Me Back My Hometown
Frankly, this song is cheesy. I'm sure fans of Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood probably enjoy this one.
I can't stand it when a song:
A. Forces too many syllables in a line
B. Has a sudden and drastic change in melody to get to the chorus
C. A really unreasonable "Yeah Yeah" "Oh Oh Oh" break
This song has all 3. You can have it.
12. The Joint
Country songwriters typically have a knack for a slick double meaning. In "The Joint", it's not that slick, and not hard to find about 4 lines in. I feel like it was a wasted opportunity to write something much better.
But what really stinks about this song is the sound (I don't know- trombones, bongos, and that synthesizer again?), Eric's voice(whispery and high), and the tempo (ghostly, crawling vocals over the faster synth beat). Other than that, well, it's still struck out.
I don't download music on an iSomething. I listen to the radio until a commercial or a Luke Bryan song comes on, then I change the station. I don't buy a lot of CDs, but when I do, I wear it out in my car cd player. This one will get a lot of play, but I'll definitely employ the skip button once or twice before it's done.