‘They’re the in crowd, we’re the other ones, it’s a different kind of cloth that we’re cut from’ is a line that pretty much sets the tone for The Outsiders the fourth album from Eric Church the country star who’s never quite enjoyed fitting in. His last album, Chief, was a huge success on the back of singles like Springsteen which became staples on country radio. Church owes a lot to that song in particular, especially the man it takes its name from; The Outsiders is one big love letter to The Boss. That’s not to say that this is the sound of Eric Church trying to be Bruce Springsteen, more that The Outsiders is the sound of an artist who knows he could create a brilliant bro-country record (see Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line) but won’t be satisfied unless he pushes his music to the limit. In fact when you put it that way, The Outsiders might just be the country world’s Yeezus.
Tracks like Roller Coaster Ride and Broke Record see Church deliver an extremely pop hook oriented take on modern country, adopting motifs and production that most ‘serious’ country acts steer clear of. Church feels completely natural on these tracks, where he could so easily sound disjointed and awkward. His vocals are emotive yet subtle across the entire record, which is a welcome departure from the usually overwrought moments on albums from his Male country peers. The closest thing to a Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan moment comes in the form of second single Give Me Back My Hometown with its stomping drums and expansive vocals. Even here though, Church is fully in control and Hometown manages to develop into the sort of stadium filling anthem the country world hardly perfects.
The restraint he shows across the album means that the down-tempo moments, like rock ballad A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young or the sex fueled Like A Wrecking Ball, let the song writing speak for itself. Eric Church consistently displays that he has the same way with words as his female contemporaries, the recent albums from Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift come to mind. The country music scene is a boys club for sure, the current top 10 on the Country Songs chart contains one woman, Hilary from Lady Antebellum, but the best songs are emerging from female writers and female singers. A song on the same level of Swift’s All Too Well is exactly the sort of thing that Church is going for here and for the most part he delivers.
Of course there are a few missteps, most notably the 4 minute spoken intro to Devil Devil which contains the monumentally terrible line ‘The devil walks among us folk, and Nashville is his bride’. Luckily this is the only truly poor moment of an otherwise consistently impressive collection of modern, rock influenced country. You hear things that you never hear on a country record on The Outsiders, there are actually instruments aside from guitar and drums heard on closer The Joint, while the stadium filling rock ending of the title track gives this album a unique flavour throughout.
The Outsiders is the kick up the backside that country music has needed for a while, a thrilling and daring album that showcases Eric Church’s talents as both a song writer and a vocalist. Country music has never sounded so exciting.