Make us your home page

Review: Eric Church's 'The Outsiders' takes country back from the frat boys

Eric Church has all the swagger and sex appeal of his country contemporaries, cliche-spewing frat faves such as Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan. The difference, however, is that the intense Tar Heel has 10 times the songwriting smarts, plus a confidence to step out of the precious limelight, not to mention his creative comfort zone, and take the time needed to write a genre-busting gem like new LP The Outsiders.

A la Miranda Lambert and recent Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, the 36-year-old dude in dark shades and curled trucker's cap possesses that rare skill to simultaneously thrive in keep-it-safe Nashville but also follow his own quirky rules. He resists the urge to sing to spring breakers, instead performing for a cultish fanbase that eats up such hybrids as 2012's Boss-referencing smash Springsteen from breakout album Chief.

And the rabblerouser Church is so honest about his varied tastes, he can't resist slipping shards of AC/DC into sneering new cut That's Damn Rock & Roll, much like when he and his crew churned out blasts of Metallica when opening for, and out-performing, Chesney last spring at Raymond James Stadium.

Church is an outlaw for sure, no more so than on the 12-track The Outsiders. A husband and father with no interest in a playboy life, the twang-strong star took a long ride to fame, slugging it out in honky-tonks and biker bars. That dues-paying shows, his ferocious band versed in all manner of survival. Playful breakup cut Cold One ("Did she have to leave me / One beer short of a twelve pack?") features a soft acoustic start, a hip-hop midsection AND a Hee Haw finale. If you've seen one of Church's live gigs, you just know Cold One will be a monster.

Same goes for the sprawling title cut, which opens the album with a decidedly hair-metal rah-rah-ness and a loner's creed that proves perfect antidote to pop country's sorority-party vibe ("They're the in-crowd, we're the other ones / It's a different kind of cloth that we're cut from"). And then there's the eight-minute-plus prog-country beast Devil, Devil ("Got nine things going wrong right now / And her leaving makes a dime"), with its overwrought spoken-word intro that pays homage to the beloved bad boys (Willie, Johnny, Kris) who preceded him.

Church thrives on switching gears, and even his slight miscues have the ability to charm. The midtempo Roller Coaster Ride, for which he delivers a roughneck falsetto, is a lark straight out of the Seals & Crofts '70s. Much like earlier Hank J.-inspired hit Drink in My Hand, chummy-strummy remember-when Talladega is the kind of bromantic tailgate cut he can write in his sound sleep.

For all his rambunctious ways, though, Church excels at the somber stuff, which is never as simple as she's-gone sentiment; the nuances come in how this complex writer perceives the pain. On a career highlight called A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young, a quiet autobiographical cut even his blue-collar hero from New Jersey would admire, Church hushes: "In the mirror, I saw my surprise / Who knew gray hairs liked to hide / On a head that didn't think he'd live past 30."

Current single Give Me Back My Hometown, about a wife who can no longer handle her man's provincial life, is one of the smarter heartbreakers to come out of Music Row lately. Building to a resilient, arena-sized realization (he loves his giant fist-pumped choruses), the cut keenly details how our vision is impaired in the wake of a split, every sight and sound colored by memory, all that was sweet now soured.

The album closes with The Joint, which, in a wry twist, is not about what you think it's about. Instead, Church, with all the affected menace of Phil Collins on In the Air Tonight, slow-drawls about Mama taking inflammatory revenge on hard-drinkin' Pa and his roadhouse. Church already did a pot song years ago, Smoke a Little Smoke. Giving you something new and unexpected: That's how Church scores his high.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter and Instagram.

SEASON PREMIERE The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 8 p.m., ABC Family: Amy wants some "alone time" with Ricky, but his birth mother shows up and needs a place to stay.

All Together Now: A Celebration of Service, 8 p.m., NBC: Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush get together for a special highlighting the importance of volunteering in your community. Because it's not like you're going to get paid for it in this economy.

Review: Eric Church's 'The Outsiders' takes country back from the frat boys 02/13/14 [Last modified: Sunday, February 16, 2014 7:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Cast up to the challenge in Richey Suncoast's 'How the Other Half Loves'


    Theater has many plays where there are two completely different apartments depicted on the stage, usually split down the middle, one on the right, one on the left.

    "How the Other Half Loves" runs weekends through Oct. 29 at Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey. Cast members are Christine Stoll and  David Daly (in front) and Bob Marcela, Heather Clark, Mike Worssell and Blake Parker (in back, from left). [Photo by Jess Glass]
  2. Review: Excellent cast delivers entertaining production of 'Young Frankenstein' at Stage West


    I went to see the musical comedy Young Frankenstein at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill with some trepidation. I had seen a very good production of the show at another theater a couple of years ago, and I was concerned that I would subconsciously compare the two to the detriment of one or the …

    "Young Frankenstein" plays weekends through Oct. 29 at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill. Keith Surplus, left, performs as Igor and Lynda Dilts-Benson, right, as Frau Blucher. [Photo by Carol Ballard]
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Oct. 23-29


    R. L. Stine: It's fitting that the week before Halloween, USF's Lecture Series features the popular horror author known for the Goosebumps series. Stine will discuss his career, creative process and sign books Wednesday at the Marshall Student Center in Tampa. Free. .

    ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 09: Singer Anthony Hamilton performs onstage at the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards Hosted By Steve Harvey at the Phillips Arena on August 9, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images for Ford Neighborhood Awards)
  4. Seasoned cast scores an extra-base hit for St. Petersburg Opera with 'Faust'


    TAMPA — Charles Gounod's Faust sets the table early. The world-weary philosopher immortalized in a dramatic poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is in his study, lamenting his state of affairs. He's willing to give away everything he has to be young again, even his soul.

    The St. Petersburg Opera Company begins its season with Faust, in a production seemingly aligned with the original intent of French composer Charles Gounod and librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre. [St. Petersburg Opera Company]
  5. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway


    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.