Eric Church - The Outsiders : 2020 Bonus Edition
When this album was originally released six years ago, Eric Church had just come off his big-selling Springsteen hit and double platinum CHIEF album. I wrote at the time: ‘Eric Church is boldly taking country music into fresh new directions as he steps out of the usual Nashville comfort zone with this, his fourth studio album. This is a bigger record, with bolder sounds, a broader scope, and more complicated songs. He throws his baseball cap into the ring with the opening title song, which recently became his sixth top ten country hit. Utilising his acclaimed road band, he turns it up into an electric guitar-and-drums-snap, Hank Williams-meets-Bad Company rocker. To a traditionalist that could be considered heresy. We forget, however, that Hank himself had traditionalists of the day screaming bloody murder when he broke out with his bluesy honky-tonkin’ in the 1940s.’
The album has now been reissued in the UK with new artwork and has also been made available as a double LP in a gatefold sleeve with a couple of bonus tracks—an extended version of the title song that is cranked up a notch with an ominous beating drum alongside distorted power guitar licks and an all-too-short version of the Beatles’ Come Together, turned into an eerie wild and woolly rouser. Not all of the songs are as heavy as those two, but they are all rooted in country music themes of heartbreak, family, home and darker issues such as murder, death and the devil. They all hang together as part of a whole album rather than a disparate collection of unconnected songs. Eric Church is one of the few country artists who has the kind of creative clout to conceptualise a wide-ranging, self-indulgent piece of work like THE OUTSIDERS. He’s also one of the few who can pull it off with such panache.
He taps into a broader palette of emotions than he had on previous releases, eschewing melancholy and eloquently channelling anger and frustration into gritty, hard-driving guitar parts that complement his rough-hewn vocals. You doubt his honky-tonk credentials, just log-in to the Dobro-driven Cold One. Yeah it rocks but didn’t ol’ Waylon rock just like this some 40-odd years ago. However, it is Eric’s country boy phrasing that is the icing on the cake as he shows us with the bluesy freight train roll of Roller Coaster Ride. He has a way of filling songs with raw emotion that few singers share and a love for traditional country music that is seldom matched. I’m a sucker for a well-written rural yarn and for me, Talladega ticks all the right boxes. Eric’s increasingly rangy baritone hangs tough throughout a shimmering, wide-ranging production that deftly traverses smooth acoustic country.
Eric Church is a North Carolina country boy through and through, and his true country roots shine through again with the wistful Give Me Back My Hometown. This shows us his softer, reflective side and is the ideal counterpoint to the heavier tracks. Broke Record is hot with husky vocals blending roots sounds from blues, country and soul into a refreshing new blend. That’s Damn Rock & Roll is full of smart, shit-kicking energy. As the song unfolds, it reveals its heart: a genuine appreciation for the struggles that got the singer where he is today. Telling it how it is he pulls no punches in describing a passionate reunion with his wife after a long road trip in Like A Wrecking Ball. He takes it all one step further with Dark Side as he explores the kind of inner urges many experience but rarely admit to as he sings about his troublesome behaviour and prays that his family never discover his ‘dark side.’ That segues neatly into Devil, Devil (Prelude Princess Of Darkness), which in a few short minutes sums up the darker side of the Nashville music business without any sight of those rose-coloured glasses that are usually held up to good ol’ Music City.
With one foot in the honky-tonks and the other in straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, Eric Church’s THE OUTSIDERS is Americana for people who don’t like Americana, rock for those who don't mind a bit of singer-songwriter introspection. He has the voice of a soul who has lived a million years and experienced every element of life to its fullest. Adventuresome, but never pretentious, this is an artist with no limits—commercially, musically or otherwise. Layered, complex songs that manage to remain airy in spite of the dense amount of tracking packed into each one, Eric Church succeeds in the exact places a ‘big’ record should—diversity, virtuosity—while graciously staying out of its own way. Eric Church has the gift of music tattooed in his guts and isn’t afraid of showing it however he can. He bites into this whole album with such enormous emotional hunger that you’re practically breathless by the time it’s over.