- EMI Nashville
By Gregory Hicks, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 9, 2014
As a label tack for The Outsiders, “experimental” would be an understatement. Eric Church’s palette holds more colors than any other country artist on the current market, and this time the painting is grittier, grimier and poised for controversy. This dark-rock fourth studio album is a follow-up to the singer’s career-hiking record Chief — most notable for its critically-acclaimed single, “Springsteen.” Church is a wise fellow: Practice musical divergence while the going is good, the venues are full and the fans are alongside, blazing a hot trail.
The country artist’s musical reappearance is a head-first plunge into rock-y waters with its lead single “The Outsiders.” A looming electric guitar intro ushers in a garage-rock chorus as stadium chants endorse Church’s opposition to his airy “Springsteen” days. The introductory talk-sing, however, falls short of the intimidation factor that the style was reaching for.
A stormy introduction from “The Outsiders” turns the rest of the album’s tracks into aftershock pieces. “Broke Record” and “Rollercoaster Ride” smack the same bass notes on a poorly-tuned saloon piano, offering a bit more country flavor to the record’s rock facets. The literal take on the track title even gives “Broken Record” some pop-esque wordplay when Church belts “you got my heart, heart, skip, skip, skippin’ a beat.”
In all of its irony, “Like a Wrecking Ball” softens the country rock singer’s attitude with mellow, lightly phased vocals and a chopped-apart electric guitar melody. The song doesn’t swing in two tons of force, but its following track “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” is a swift reminder of what we’re dealing with. The continued talk-singing reiterates its questionable effectiveness, but the bulky female backing vocals — practically worthy of being labeled lead vocals — give the track its fighter-form. Classically rebellious.
On an album that seeks to probe many off-the-beaten-path production styles and modes, the appearance of “Talladega” doesn’t fit the record’s mold (or lack thereof). The chord progressions are elementary, and the fun-yet-reflective country styling doesn't belong on a Church record — let alone this Church record. In its overall risk-taking nature, however, it’s not outlandish to place a one-size-fits-all country music track to keep some balance.
Ditching many of the acoustics will harvest mixed reactions in the country realm — potentially even among Church’s fans — but that’s what being an outsider is all about.