Song Review: Eric Church, “Monsters”

I guess Eric Church was right: “A bunch of it you maybe can’t use.”

Church is one of those artists who is perpetually on the verge of breaking through on the radio, but is never quite able to seal the deal. His latest single “Some Of It” was only his second Billboard No. 1 and third Top Five since 2014, lagging far behind his critical acclaim and lengthy list of award nominations. A chart-topper is still a chart-topper, however, and it gave Church a bit of momentum to help launch the third (and perhaps the buzziest) single from his Desperate Man album, “Monsters.” It’s a song that invites reflection from the listener, but it doesn’t hit its mark the way “Some Of It” did. It’s not as moving and it provides no answers to the questions it poses, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed when the song was through.

The production takes the usual restrained approach that Church has favored in recent years—in fact, it’s the sparsest arrangement he’s used in a while. The sole acoustic guitar that opens the song is limited to chords stabs until the bridge solo, and the mix builds up incredibly slow, starting with a background organ, then adding some sticks-only percussion, and eventually bringing in a snare drum and giving an electric guitar an unimpressive, out-of-place solo. (And then the whole thing drops back to the acoustic guitar for the third verse, and never really builds back up.) I wouldn’t call it lifeless, but there’s not a whole lot of sonic or emotional energy here either—it’s pretty much just background noise that you barely notice or remember. It just doesn’t have the richness or catchiness of “Some Of It,” and when the best thing you can say is that it doesn’t get in the way of the writing, that isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

Along the same lines, Church doesn’t have the same vocal presence here that he did on “Some Of It,” and the listener is mostly unmoved by his treatise. His technical skills are mostly present and accounted for (although his flow gets a little awkward when he randomly decides to speed through a line ahead of the tempo, which is generally a bad decision anyway), and while he maintains his believability regardless of what hat he’s wearing (monster-killing child, bad behavior expert, father figure), there’s something missing from his delivery this time around, and while I can’t put my finger on what it is (perhaps it’s the lack of support from the production and harmony vocals?), the result is that he just doesn’t connect with the audience in the same way as his previous single, and he doesn’t make me care about the story he’s trying to tell. This should never happen with someone as thoughtful and charismatic as Church behind the mic, and he and his team need to find and address this issue before it becomes a pattern.

The writing is probably the biggest disappointment here, as it only vaguely describes the “monsters” and offers no real solution to defeating them. The story starts out innocently enough, with a young narrator using light to face his fears and vanquish imaginary monsters, but when the real monsters are revealed to not be “the ones beneath the bed,” they’re only described in vague, deadly-sin terms like “greed” and “pride,” along with some meaningless/obvious statements like “The wolf hunts a hungry man and the devil a lonely heart.” (What the heck am I supposed to do with that?) Worse still, instead of the concrete examples of wisdom we got on “Some Of It,” the narrator’s remedy here is…just pray and hope that things get better? That’s the best answer you’ve got? At least the seven-year-old narrator took action to combat their fears; in adulthood they’ve conceded the match to the monsters by opting for passive submission and blind faith. (We never learn how the narrator’s son reacts to his father’s praying on the third verse, but personally I wouldn’t have found that comforting at all.) I expected more out of Church and his co-writer here, because anyone who positions themselves as an “outlaw” like Church has should never give up a fight this easily.

“Monsters” strikes me as all bark and no bite: The writing is weak, Eric Church is unconvincing, and the production does nothing more than exist. It’s not interesting, it’s not insightful, and it’s not a great way to build off of “Some Of It.” If Church is going to release radio filler like this, he’ll be waiting a few more years before the seeing the Billboard summit again.

Rating: 5/10. Don’t waste your time with this one.