Sound — 7
Artistic freedom is a wonderful thing to have when you're a high profile artist. At the same time, even established artists sometimes don't know where to draw the line between comfortably blending genres and trying to fit square pegs in round holes. That's the trap that Eric Church has fallen into with his new album, "The Outsiders." Don't get me wrong, it's still a great album, but as a fan who's come to expect masterpieces from the North Carolina native, I can't help but feel disappointed as I continue to listen to this album. There are some genuinely great songs on this record, from the introspective "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" to the vocal highlight "Give Me Back My Hometown," but overall "The Outsiders" doesn't stand strong as a complete album. "Talladega" is the only song that even approaches traditional country, and while it's a good, catchy song, it comes out of nowhere, even with the surprisingly good guitar solo in the outro. The album won't disappoint if listeners are at least looking for some great material. There are just too many different influences trying to work together on "The Outsiders." The title track and "That's Damn Rock and Roll" feel out of place, even if they are good rockin' songs. "Cold One" has elements of of folk/pop and a light touch of bluegrass at the start, but then the first chorus kicks in and the song becomes an awkward mesh of too many styles. The highlight of the album is undoubtedly the 8 minute epic "Devil, Devil" that begins with a prelude entitled "Princess of Darkness." The prelude is a slow building segment of spoken word with a ton of lyrical highlights. Once "Devil, Devil" kicks in after about 3 and a half minutes, the song shifts into one of Church's catchiest, to date. Overall, "The Outsiders" is a strong album from mainstream country's best young artist, but it tries to blend too many genres to be cohesive, as an album.
Lyrics — 8
This is, without question, Church's weakest lyrical album to date. The album has its highlights, but they are few and far between when compared to his prior releases. Strong songs like "Dark Side" are weakened by moments of silliness (in this instance, the bridge/outro is just bad), whereas other songs suffer from being far too straight forward ("Broke Record," "Like a Wrecking Ball"). "Roller Coaster Ride" is interesting, but it's a story that Church has told before. "Talladega" is extremely catchy and will surely be a fan favorite, but it's a song we've heard before, even if Church does it better than most. For an artist who's thrived on clever lyrics combined with his excellent vocal skills, "The Outsiders" lacks the lyrical consistency that Church's first three albums had. Fortunately for his fans, his vocal skills are still in top form. Few artists have his range, and even fewer use so many different vocalizations and vocal styles. There are moments that approach hip hop territory like the intro and first verse of the title track, but unlike other mainstream country artists, Eric Church seems to know how to toe that line. While the instrumental arrangements are too varied to be cohesive or even make any sense, the vocals on this album are blended rather well, but that's to be expected from a top notch singer like Eric Church. With a lesser vocalist, this album would have been a disaster.
Overall Impression — 7
Eric Church stated that they weren't worried about genres when writing and recording this album. That much is clear upon the first listen, but the lack of cohesion between songs has left a void that only his next album will be able to fill. While "The Outsiders" has plenty of strong points, and only one bad song ("The Joint," which is just a silly song, and a terrible album closer), it just doesn't match up to the other releases he's had in his career. Fans will at the very least have standout songs like "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young," "Devil, Devil," and "Give Me Back My Hometown" to fall back on. The album may be a grower, and hell, maybe I'll like it a lot more in a few months, but as of right now, "The Outsiders" isn't living up to the standard set by Church's prior material. We can only hope that the lack of cohesiveness between songs teaches Eric Church to stick to what makes him who he is, moving forward.