Eric Church’s ‘The Outsiders’ Tests The Limits Of Country

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When it comes to creative freedom, Eric Church isn’t afraid to test the boundaries in fresh, electric new ways. Up until this point, he’s stayed within the confines of tradition, with only a slight dusting of southern rock. On Sinners Like Me(2006), Carolina (2009) and Chief (2011), the modern-day outlaw only hinted at his ambition, but with his 2014 release, he makes a bold statement, draped with real stories about real (often broken) people. Appropriately titled The Outsiders, this singer, musician and storyteller injects a vibrant perspective into contemporary country music.

When you press play on the album’s opener and title track, it’s clear that this isn’t your typical male affair. With severe heavy-metal overtones, Church jumpstarts a collection that dares to defy convention, ultimately offering a healthy alternative to his bro-country counterparts. That’s right: he’s no Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line concoction. He’s a beast of explosive musical fire, charring a path that few ever consider trekking. Of course, other tracks that dig into rock ‘n roll’s no-holds-barred past include the groovy “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” (a head-banging free-spirited anthem) and “Broke Record.”

“Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess Of Darkness)” is one of the most intriguing entries on the 12-track set. It’s a searing, unrelenting metaphor for Music Row and the money that secretly changes hands behind the curtain, or so he teases. “This town, she is a temptress,” he speaks on the opening line, “a siren with gold eyes, she’ll cut you with her kindness. She will lead you with her lies. She’s been called a glistening devil. She’s good at keeping score.” Church’s audacious delivery is admirable; he wants to make it clear that he makes art and doesn’t give in to trends (at least not anymore).

The rest of the first verse is gravely vivid, “If you make it she’s your savior, if you don’t she’s a whore. The roads to and from her heart are littered with grave souls. They gave all of their all and all they got in return is empty holes. Sure we’ve all heard about Shell, and Chris, Willie and Bobby Bares. She’d smiled on the Johnny’s, the Merle’s and the Music Row millionaires. Like a beacon she goes seeking seed, her loins so fertile. To a free man she’s a prison, to a caged one she’s a fire.” It’s Church’s fire that manages to shine brightest here, with the song then segueing into a romping guitar-laden sing-along.

Of course, Church makes sure to serve some lighter, more tender moments on Outsiders, particularly with “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” (the best song of the bunch), “Talladega” and “Dark Side.” He’s not just a powerful rocker, but he can pull in the reigns and deliver something truly emotional and significant.

With the likes of Blake Shelton, Bryan and the FGL duo of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard impacting the industry with fun, beer-swigging, feel-good tunes, Church provokes deafening artistry. He’s honed in an an adventurous new sound that is quite remarkable and could herald in a new era of focus on songwriting and organic storytelling.

Must-Listen Tracks: “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” “Dark Side,” “Devil, Devil”

Grade: 4.5/5

Photo Credit: CMA Press