Eric Church is no stranger to raising eyebrows and taking the road less travelled. In a world full of repetitive, twangy, vapid country music, he has always released something deeper,and often darker, that belongs to a genre of his own that is closer to southern rock than anything else. He can be compared to artists like Chris Stapleton who don’t care much about their image—and produce unique, personal music as a result.
Desperate Man starts off with a darker cut, “The Snake,” which features a long, echoey intro that morphs into a steady beat. The instrumentals and vocals build upon themselves as the song picks up intensity. The lyrics, which are delivered in a spitting, speaking rhythm rather than sung, are unusual. Church’s deep political metaphor evokes disturbing, haunting imagery throughout, singing about two snakes meant to represent America’s increasingly-partisan political parties. Lines like “We stay hungry, they get fed” represent the anger underpinning the song, setting the foundation for the entire album.
“Hangin’ Around” fits right in with “The Snake”—Church’s low, slippery voice slithers through the song, wrapping and winding around the chorus. It’s juxtaposed by the staccato nature of the chorus, but somehow, the two sides mold together with ease.
Church is at his best when he sings mysterious, dark lyrics. “Heart Like a Wheel” fits right in with this precedent—the song has aspects of soul and rock music, but is morphed into something that transcends musical categorization altogether. The long intro features completely intriguing guitar mixed with some syncopated instrumentals (which frequent the entire record)—it would have been even better if it was the opening track of the record.
While the more twisted tracks are Church’s forte, he got out of his comfort zone for a few songs on Desperate Man. “Some of It” is a sweet, uplifting song about growing up. The song lists off all sorts of lessons Church has learned in his life, and the chorus reminds the listener that “Some of it you learn the hard way / some of it you read on a page / some of it comes from heartbreak / some of it comes with age.” “Monsters” also gives a glimpse at Church’s contemplative side. In it, he sings of the little fears of his childhood which became the spiritual questions of his adulthood. The initially slow song picks up around halfway through, morphing into a heavier rock song that still allows for a rolling, rhythmic cadence.
“Hippie Radio” displays Church’s reminiscent side by featuring the songs he grew up listening to. He alludes to Warren Zevon, Kansas, The Band, and Harry Chapin (among others). As much as Church likes to name-drop these artists, it’s easy to hear some of their influences in Church’s music today.
The title track of the album became very popular, very fast upon its release as the lead single. “Desperate Man” doesn’t sound like Eric Church at all. It has an upbeat rhythm and nonsensical lyrics—it’s totally straightforward, which is why it stands out in a sea of twisting musical mysteries. The strong drumbeat combined with Church’s angry vocals (“I’m a half-cock, full-tilt / scarred-hands-to-the-hilt / don’t-push-me, grown-ass man”) will get stuck in your head for days, and make you wish that Eric Church had stumbled across this kind of music years ago.
Perhaps a take on “Desperate Man,” “Drowning Man” ends the album on a sad note. Throughout the song, Church sings about a working-class man drowning out life at a bar. Although it’s a downer, it features some of Church’s best vocals and a unique beat. The song closes out the album with a sound that is unwaveringly Eric Church.
Church has proven himself time and time again to be a footsoldier of country’s remarkably unique sounds. Part blues, part southern rock, Desperate Man shows that he’s not slowing down anytime soon. As long as artists like him are producing albums with unrivaled personal flair, country music still has hope.
Featured Image by EMI Records Nashville