Eric Church, arguably country music’s most eclectic mainstream artist, has made a pretty big name for himself over the last 17 years in Nashville. From getting kicked off of Rascal Flatts‘ 2006 tour, to canceling a show in 2022 due to North Carolina playing Duke in the Final Four, Church does what he wants with little regard for backlash.
Given this, he has produced some of the most boundary-pushing, captivating albums coming out of Nashville. From Grammy nominations to CMA wins, Eric Church has received critical acclaim for many of the following records. However, which one is truly his magnum opus? Today, I take a deep dive into his entire discography.
9. The Outsiders
Fresh off of the success of Chief, it’s clear that Church felt like he needed to take a big swing for the fences with The Outsiders. And while I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he struck out, he most definitely did not hit a home run here. Many of the songs simply feel like Church was trying a bit too hard to lean into his “outsider” persona. Though Outsiders delivered some of Church’s best deep cuts with A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young, Dark Side and Devil, Devil, it also contains some of Church’s weakest songs. Both The Joint and Give Me Back My Hometown are arguably his worst deep cut and single respectively. That being said, Talladega is easily one of his standout singles present on any record. Though not a bad album by any means, The Outsiders feels the least cohesive in Church’s deep discography.
Standout Track: A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young
The final installment of Church’s 2021 Heart & Soul triple album, has some major hits and some major misses. The album starts out extremely strong with the groovy Rock & Roll Found Me and Look Good and You Know It. Though it’s hard to call it extremely country, the album’s production sounds fantastic. However, it contains two of Church’s worst songs to date, Break It Kind of Guy and Bad Mother Trucker. The latter feels like a parody of sorts. Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones, on the other hand, is one of his most interesting songs to date. The track is essentially a sequel to Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s hit, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, and once again shows Church’s writing prowess. Though Soul has many solid songs, it truly gets bogged down by the two aforementioned tracks.
Standout Track: Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones
Originally a Church Choir (Church’s fan club) exclusive, & was the 6-song bridge between Heart and Soul in 2021. It wasn’t until 2022 that the album was released to the public. Though it can be debated whether & is truly a studio album due to its length, Church’s official website lists it as one. There isn’t a whole lot to say with the album; it truly feels like a 6-song bridge between the aforementioned records. It’s definitely more cohesive than Soul; however, it’s less memorable and full compared to Heart.
Standout Track: Kiss Her Goodbye
The first installment of Heart & Soul is easily the strongest of the triple album. Heart comes out of the gate firing with Heart on Fire, checking all of the same boxes present on Springsteen. Ironically, the weakest track on the album is the one that kicked off the announcement of all three albums. Stick That in Your Country Song once again feels like Church trying a bit too hard to be edgy and different. While, of course, the message of country radio lacking substantive songs is a relevant and meaningful one, the presentation of the track feels a bit cheesy. All that being said, Heart is a rock-solid album that feels much more balanced than the other two entries of the triple album.
Standout Track: Crazyland
5. Sinners Like Me
Church’s debut album is still wildly successful in everything it set out to do and ages incredibly well. Though How ‘Bout You and Guys Like Me feel like some of Church’s most cliché songs today, Sinners Like Me has the best set of deep cuts of any of his albums. Sinners Like Me, Lightning, These Boots, and The Hard Way are all some of the best tracks Church has to offer to this day. The album is one that captures Church’s wild, reckless youth perfectly while simultaneously opening up room for growth and maturity in later albums such as Mr. Misunderstood and Desperate Man.
Standout Track: Lightning
Building off of the success of Sinners Like Me, Carolina feels extremely similar in a good way. Church doesn’t lose his edge with songs like Ain’t Killed Me Yet, Young and Wild and the smash hit, Smoke a Little Smoke. However, Church shows even more flashes of his vulnerability in Where She Told Me to Go, Love Your Love The Most and You Make It Look So Easy. Carolina also contains one of the most underrated, beautiful songs from Church, or any country artist for that matter, Those I’ve Loved. The track is a simply gorgeous one dedicated to all the people who made an impact on his life. It’s these flashes of beauty and maturity in between the edge that makes Church such a captivating artist to watch grow from project to project.
Standout Track: Those I’ve Loved
3. Desperate Man
Desperate Man is one of those records that get better with age. It’s an album that further shows Church’s maturity and journey into fatherhood. While there are still flashes of Church’s rambling, younger days with the title track, Desperate Man, the record is a much more reflective one. It feels like a natural sequel to Mr. Misunderstood and an evolution of Church’s sound in general. Some of It, Monsters and Hippie Radio all further his dive into fatherhood while tracks like Jukebox and a Bar and The Snake show Church at his most reflective and cynical. Desperate Man is his most rock-influenced album to date, with many songs having a 70s rock feel. Both Desperate Man and Hangin’ Around feel like they were taken straight from a Rolling Stones record. Desperate Man certainly isn’t for everyone. However, it is certainly one of Church’s most captivating records.
Standout Track: Hippie Radio
Does Chief really need an introduction? It’s one of the most successful and iconic albums of the 2010s, that solidified Church as a bonafide superstar. From the 4x platinum hit, Drink In My Hand, to his most popular song to date, Springsteen, Chief’s success and impact simply cannot be understated. Though Chief is not the first album to blend country and southern rock together, it arguably does it the best. Deep cuts such as Over When It’s Over and the platinum single, Like Jesus Does pack this 11-song album front-to-back with quality tracks. Though not as mature as Desperate Man or Mr. Misunderstood, Chief simply isn’t interested in maturity. It’s a record packed with incredible tracks about lost love and drinking. There still hasn’t been an album that feels as fresh as Chief while still covering those familiar country tropes since.
Standout Track: Springsteen
1. Mr. Misunderstood
Not only is Mr. Misunderstood Church’s best album to date, but it’s also one of the best country albums of the 2010s. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more complete, cohesive and compelling record to come out during this era. I’d go as far as to say this is the finest country album of the decade, outside of Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. Church shows so much growth and maturity in this tight 10-track album. Unlike some of his weaker albums, Mr. Misunderstood covers a lot of subject matter in little time. There are themes of heartbreak, fatherhood, love, belonging, artistry, and even murder strewn throughout the record’s 39-minute runtime. There aren’t many albums in any genre that can take the listener on such a roller coaster of emotions, but Mr. Misunderstood does it expertly.
Standout Track: Knives of New Orleans