Published Oct 03, 2018Eric Church's masculinity has never quite been threatening, but it has never really allowed for women or queer folks either, and the rock for rock's sake kind of bulldozes over any nuance. Desperate Man is good, but its sentimentality is cruder than his best work and lacks the sexual charisma that redeemed the last album. Church is usually more thoughtful than what he presents here.
Desperate Man is mostly men talking to men, sometimes about women. No woman is named in the album's 37-minute runtime: there are songs where he addresses women; one features chimes, blues solos, and a looping grind, which he begins with "She's caviar and mascara and I'm corduroy and leather" ("Heart Like A Wheel"). There is the first song on the album, where the snake in the garden calls Eve a bitch ("The Snake"). On "Hippie Radio," about a boy's relationship to music and cars, there is a fist fight mentioned in the second verse. The car is mentioned in great detail, the music is referenced with enough clarity to make a playlist and the brother gets a name, but the woman (who would eventually give the boy a child), is not named at all.
However, Church has always been a crackerjack guitarist. How he plays with his bassist, Lee Hendricks, is one of the tightest relationships in country, and how Church himself moves from a growl to a croon has a profound sophistication. There are bits of this record (especially the first track) that have a sinuous, almost dangerous sidewind. He can chop, anthologize, splinter and reassemble the historical intersections of country and rock. At his best, he updates the Allman Brothers, splicing in just enough of the Bakersfield sound, without sounding nostalgic or dated. (Universal)