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"I'm a long gone Waylon song on vinyl."
on July 26, 2011
Since his debut SINNERS LIKE ME, Eric Church has been a fresh breath of smoke-and-booze-filled air on the country music scene. He's unafraid to go places other mainstream singers won't. Perhaps his greatest talent has been to place new, honest emphasis on country music cliches: drinking, NASCAR, Jesus, fishing, true love, heartache, and country music itself.
His fourth album (counting the CALDWELL COUNTY EP, which if you haven't listened to, you should), CHIEF is probably Church's weakest effort to date. That's not saying it isn't worth your time--note the three stars. The problem is, Church doesn't juggle the cliches quite as well as he has in the past. Some of the songs on here are almost painful to listen to: "Like Jesus Does" (the one song he didn't co-write) doesn't even belong here--it's the sole love ballad on the album. "Country Music Jesus" is territory Church has already covered with more passion and anger ("Lotta Boot Left To Fill"). "Drink In My Hand" and "Keep On" are by-the-numbers drinking songs: catchy melodies, relatable lyrics, nothing at all original or noteworthy (except for Church's vocals, which as always are exceptional). Even the debut single, "Homeboy," is either a redneck anthem or a borderline racist diatribe, depending on how you look at it (I'm leaning towards the former).
Yet, through it all, Church remains likeable and listenable. His songs don't sound quite like the others they're imitating. And by the album's halfway point, he's hitting his stride: "Hungover and Hard Up" is hangover poetry; "Jack Daniels" is a humorous morning-after song; "Springsteen," the album's highlight, is an ode to lost innocence. These songs in particular showcase the talent that lies at the core of Church's music. Otherwise, what we have are a bunch of songs that offer little new to the music scene (remember how groundbreaking SINNERS LIKE ME sounded?), and pale in comparison to Church's previous efforts. However, the intensity with which he sings, and the honesty with which he writes, are enough to make you want to come back for more. It's kind of sad to hear the man who wrote the beautiful "Lightning" reduced to such pathetic puns as "She's got a rock/I'm gettin' stoned," but at least he sings it with genuine enthusiasm. CHIEF isn't Eric Church's best, but it's still better than most of your other options out there.