Eric Church has a long history of bucking trends, and his sixth studio album Desperate Man is no different. His first release in nearly three years, it is the follow-up to his surprise 2015 album Mr. Misunderstood. The 11-track project finds the singer once again pushing boundaries as well as himself.
The North Carolina native has had his fair share of ups and downs over the past few years and admits that his recent health scare and the Route 91 Harvest tragedy were weighing on him when it came time to work on what would become Desperate Man. Instead of chasing surefire radio hits, Church wrote what he felt needed to be said. The album reflects a man trying to find his place in society, and while at times he’s unsure of his footing, he remains solid in his conviction and in his roots.
“The Snake” is the first song on the album and Church says it’s the track that helped shape the project. Embodying a distinct political tone, he uses metaphors of the rattlesnake and copperhead as the figurative left and right. “They sit there and fight all day to rile people up and then go get a drink,” he says. “They’re working together while the whole world is burning down.”
The haunting track begins with over a minute of delicate finger picked acoustic guitar accompaniment before his spoken word vocals and steady percussion enter. “Rattlesnake, copperhead / Either one of them, kill you dead / We stay hungry, they get fed /And don’t pass the plate around / Lie by lie, cheat by cheat / Venom in smiling teeth / They just run, those forked tongues / And the whole world’s burning down,” he sings on the chorus.
In contrast, the rollicking and bluesy throwback “Hanging Around” highlights Church’s mesmerizing falsetto alongside hand-clapped rhythms and sultry piano accompaniment. Once again, the song touches upon the singer’s mission to stay true to himself. “I rock to my own rhythm / I roll to my own beat / I play the movie villain,” he croons.
While title track “Desperate Man” and the bluesy “Solid” showcase Church’s steadfast nature, it’s the heartbreaking “Jukebox and a Bar” and the reflective “Some of It” that illustrate his soft side. On the latter Church gets nostalgic about the lessons he’s learned in life, noting, “sometimes wrong is right.”
“Some of it you learn the hard way / Some of it you read on a page / Some of it comes from heartbreak / Most of it comes with age / And none of it ever comes easy / A bunch of it you maybe can’t use / I know I don’t probably know what I think I do / But there’s something to some of it,” he sings.
Additional album highlights include the heartfelt story song “Hippie Radio,” a tribute to the singer’s childhood, and “Monsters,” in which Church sings of the monsters we fear underneath the bed as children and later, the metaphorical monsters we all face in life. Instead of fighting them himself, he falls on his knees and says a prayer. “I keep my faith intact and make sure my prayers are said / ‘Cause I’ve learned that the monsters ain’t the ones beneath the bed,” he sings.
On Desperate Man, Church once again proves his staying power. The singer wrote or co-wrote each of the 11 songs on the project, and as a result, leaves an indelible and personal mark on his listener. Whether he shares his soft side as he reflects on life or details his frustrations with the outside world, Desperate Man has the Chief sharing insecurities we all have faced from time to time. It’s this raw vulnerability coupled with stellar musicianship and the element of surprise on each track that has Church on an entirely different playing field from his contemporaries. As long as he keeps pushing himself musically, his loyal Church Choir will be there to listen.