Eric Church’s ‘Mr. Misunderstood’: 10 Best Moments on Surprise LP
Following in the footsteps of pop stars like Beyoncé and Drake, Eric Church dropped the first surprise album of his career. With no fanfare, no promotional push and no advance single, Church’s Mr. Misunderstood became the biggest country music story of the week — aside from that Chris Stapleton guy coming out of nowhere to sweep the CMA Awards.
But sometimes the best stuff just falls into your lap. Or is delivered anonymously to your doorstep, in the case of Mr. Misunderstood. Now on iTunes, with an official video for the title track and even a Church-centric pop-up store open in Nashville, the album is riding a wave of much-deserved buzz. Listen and you’ll hear why many are already calling it a modern-country classic. Here are 10 things we noticed that back up that claim.
1. The Title Track’s Irregular Rhythm
Keeping a steady rhythm is one of the first rules of country music. It propels listeners into a story and holds them there, and on a subconscious level it just feels good. Yet it can also be boring and betray the complexity of real life, which is probably why Eric Church threw it all out the window on Mr. Misunderstood‘s title track. Just as the ugly duckling kid in the lyrics begins to turn into a badass swan, Church’s band kicks the beat up a notch, as if someone messed with the speed setting on their turntable. Then it backs down even slower than before, seeming to head for the finish line — but it’s a fake out. The rhythm launches into yet another gear for a big finish, giving the story its own life cycle of good vibes and bad.
2. The Cutting “Knives of New Orleans”
Church already name-checked Bruce Springsteen with Chief‘s chart-topping single “Springsteen,” but he’s never sounded more born to run than on “Knives of New Orleans,” a walloping, wild-eyed epic about an accused man hiding out in the French Quarter, pursued by authorities for drowning his girlfriend in Lake Pontchartrain. While his country-radio contemporaries may fill their own anthems with pyro-ready grunts of guitar distortion and digital snare hits stolen from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, Church packs his punch with restraint and conviction, waiting until the 1:37 mark to bring in the full band. After that, the song barrels ahead with serious bombast, building its way to a refrain — “I did what I did!” — that’s equal parts rallying cry and confession.
3. The Tasteful Name-Checks
Church loves to call out his influences (“Springsteen,” anyone?) but he’s way too smart to throw an unjustified name-check into a song without having it also reflected sonically. Take “Mr. Misunderstood,” where he mentions Jeff Tweedy but also matches a touch of melody and tempo to “Misunderstood,” off Wilco’s seminal double album Being There, plunging even further by sharing themes of restless adulthood and art as the true savior. And “Record Year” talks of three seminal J’s – Jennings, Jones and James Brown – who all are crucial pillars in Mr. Misunderstood’s songbook. But it’s a more subtle reference to John Lee Hooker (“one bourbon, one scotch, one beer/I’m having a record year”) that shows he’s more than comfortable being stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis — or Delta — blues again.
4. The Album’s Big Bang Creation
Mr. Misunderstood has a voice and sound of its own. A more mature, less aggressive posture, reflective lyrics and a subdued vibe that places Church’s stories out front are its overwhelming characteristics, and none of it is by accident. Many of today’s major albums are pieced together over months (or even years) as artists try to cover all their stylistic bases, but that just gives their project a disjointed, slapped-together feel. Church’s set, however, feels like one long conversation, something that will give it staying power as time goes on. In a letter to fans, he explains why: “I wrote my first song [for the album] late this summer. Twenty days later, I had 18 songs. Twenty days following that, I had 10 recorded.” It’s a true and rare snapshot of an artist in the wilds of creativity.
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