Release Date: Nov 3, 2015
Record label: EMI
Arriving after the deliberately overblown The Outsiders -- an outlaw album pumped up on steroids, gaining its resonance through its slow songs -- Mr. Misunderstood feels like a correction: a swift, modest album shorn of excess, released without an iota of pre-release hype. Devoid of the arena rock feints that dogged The Outsiders -- there are no two-part metallic jams, no salutations to damn rock & roll -- Mr.
Eric Church has always been excellent at balancing whiskey-charged toughness with open-hearted musical subtlety: His first great hit was 2011's "Springsteen," a masterwork of literary detail and melodic texture, and 2014's The Outsiders nailed a 21st-century country-rock sweet spot. So it's no big shock to hear him big-upping Wilco's Jeff Tweedy (and even nicking one of his tunes) on this album, where he cleverly juggles genres and often leans on his somber singer-songwriter side. Recorded in about a month and surprise-released to fans, it's full of casual stunners: "Mixed Drinks About Feelings" is a closing-time piano duet with Susan Tedeschi; "Chattanooga Lucy" sees Church working a soul falsetto over a stomping dance groove; and the backing track for "Kill A Word" is like a twang-born kissing cousin of early-Eighties Fleetwood Mac.
This album was a Beyonce Drop, mailed as a physical copy to Eric Church’s fan club members, and released a couple of days later on iTunes. The single, and the title track, became a more conventional single, sung at the CMA awards. The week between the album drop and the CMA had a number of pieces of common wisdom emerge, most of which seem to be fairly uncontroversial: the Jeff Tweedy reference in the first song was a little awkward, that the album was a little shopworn compared to the ambition of his last album Outsiders, and that he was still working through a musical schtick that was lost somewhere between Little Feat and Bon Jovi.
When Eric Church released The Outsiders last year, country music was his for the taking. That album, which has sold over a million copies and resulted in four top-ten singles, was an uncompromising tour de force, merging prog, metal, soul, and hard-rock with Church’s soft side and knack for country hits. It was one of the most adventurous big-tent country LPs of the past decade.
Surprise albums have become so common in pop, rock, R&B, and hip-hop that they rarely feel like an event anymore. But not only was the release of country star Eric Church’s fifth album, “Mr. Misunderstood,” a surprise to the industry, but it also came as something of a surprise to the singer-songwriter himself. According to a letter he wrote to fans, the songs on the 10-track collection came to him practically unbidden over a 20-day burst of inspiration.
Eric Church is the sort of singer who sings earnestly about other singers, whose songs posit music as a magical sun shower to bathe in blissfully. In his songs, music is fuel for love, for anguish and, naturally, for other music. The ghosts of Mr. Church’s taste are all over “Mr. Misunderstood.