What results is a perfectly blended hodgepodge of music, pulling from all genres and covering the spectrum of themes. From the, call it "Erratic", opening title track through the trippy ending, Eric Church makes one thing clear - He does his albums the way he wants to. He is clearly not afraid to call out those around him along the way, a point that has been a recurring theme in his albums (see previous songs "Lotta Boot Left To Fill" and "Country Music Jesus").
After the opening track, one that covers more genres than "Freebird" in a shorter time, the album levels out into what could be considered near-perfection. "A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young" is Church's "My Next 30 Years", reflecting on the first 36 years of his life and the woman who chose to love him. "Cold One" throws listeners for a twist, with an interesting guitar as Church laments less about the loss of the girl than the beer she took with her when she left. "Roller Coaster Ride" could likely be the subtitle of the album, describing his life after a breakup, but more accurately describing the ups and downs of the styles of music on the album.
"Talladega" is as close to mainstream as Church is willing to go on "The Outsiders". The song is reminiscent of the aforementioned "Springsteen", and will likely be another smash radio hit for the singer. It also marks a turn in the sound for the album.
The second half of the album is darker, grittier, heavily influenced by rock, country, and outlaw, and is as close to perfect as one can get. Many of the tracks ("Devil, Devil", "Dark Side", "The Joint") would likely be more welcome on a Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson record than almost anything put out in today's country culture. In fact, it would not be hard to see Church touring with those "Highwaymen" had he been recording when they were recording.
A particularly high point on the album comes in the tracks following Church calling out Rock Bands as fake. Following "That's Damn Rock & Roll" comes a three-part stretch over two songs. "Dark Side" opens with a long rambling guitar with a bass drum background before launching into a reflective song about how far a man will go for his family. The lyrics recall "Lightning" (from Church's "Sinners Like Me" album), and could be considered a prequel track. Following "Dark Side" comes "Devil, Devil" but not before a three minute recitation of a poem Church wrote, describing Nashville as the "Princess Of Darkness", Satan's bride. The poem describes Nashville, particularly the recording industry, as a cesspool:
"A tramp. A slut. A bitch. A mutt./ A thousand pawn shop guitars/ A nasty bitter needle to a vein that feeds a singer's heart/ She lurks in friendly shadows, but she's a junkie with a limp/ The agents are her bookie, and the label's are her pimp."
After the colorful poem, Church launches into "Devil, Devil" rounding out the dark trilogy of the album. Fans who have been clamoring for the old days of "Good country music" will love what "Dark Side", "Princess of Darkness" and "Devil, Devil" have to offer.
Overall, it is hard to find fault with much on "The Outsiders", and even if you could, it is clear that Church would not care. This is clearly a project from his heart, with him pouring himself into a rebellious sound that oozes from every song. After the commercial success of "Chief", it is hard not to expect that this album will not follow suit. Listeners who joined the "Church Choir" after hearing songs like "Springsteen" are going to be in for a surprise though, when they discover that song to be the exception, not the rule to Church's style.
"The Outsiders" hits shelves and digital media on Tuesday, February 11th.