It might be a “Hell Of A View,” but it’s really not much of a song.
Eric Chuch’s raw directive to country music “Stick That In Your Country Music” mostly fell on deaf ears in the genre (the song only made it to #22 on Billboard’s airplay chart, but I guarantee that it will beat that ranking on my year-end list), but someone at the Country Music Association was paying attention, as the group bestowed its coveted Entertainer Of The Year on him just last week. As part of the festivities, Church brought out his presumed next single “Hell Of A View,” catapulting it up the charts and ensuring that my review backlog would continue to grow instead of shrink. While just about anything he released would pale in comparison to his last single, I was really hoping for something a bit more interesting than this: The track is a free-spirit love song that’s a bit too safe and cookie-cutter for my tastes, and doesn’t do enough to catch the listener’s ear and stand out from the pack.
The producer here deserves at least some credit: They tried to generate a sonic throwback to artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty, but the mix lacks the punch that it needs to really emulate the style, and it boils down to the same darn guitar-and-drum arrangement the rest of the genre is relying upon. Sure, the opening guitar has a classic rock feel to it, and the methodical drum line and piano notes do their best to create some energy and drive the song forward, but it ends up feeling like a mediocre photocopy of its inspiration: Neither the tempo nor the volume nor the overall energy level approach that of, say, a “Thunder Road.” The background cacaphony on the choruses don’t help matters, as the guitars, synth tones and “ooh-ooh” background vocals that are supposed to give the song a spacious feel instead cause all the other instruments to run together and become less distinct, much like the way your towels all become the same color the first time you wash them with a brand-new sweater. There’s just no passion or romance in this mix—it’s more boring than anything else, and it passes in one ear and out the other without leaving a trace.
The producer’s abdication of their duties puts the onus on Church to inject this song with the necessary emotion, and sadly he’s only partially successful. Technically, the performance is pretty solid (no range or flow issues), but in contrast to the raw, personal feel of “Stick That In Your Country Song,” Church comes across as surprisingly subdued here, coming across more like an observer of the relationship rather than a participant. As a result, the dominant feeling here is appreciation rather than love, and the audience just doesn’t get to share in the narrator’s emotions. While there are brief flashes of Church’s classic charisma (and he’s certainly believable as a free spirit), he doesn’t put his own stamp on the song the way he did with his previous single—had you stuck anyone else behind the mic, the song would have sounded about the same, and that’s something that really shouldn’t happen when a unique personality like Church is involved. In other words, this isn’t the kind of performance you can get away with when you’re stuck out on a limb as Church is here.
The most disappointing part of this song is that immediately after Church pointedly tells the genre “Stick That In Your Country Song,” he proceeds to stick exactly zero of “that” in his follow-up single. Instead, this is a standard free-spirit love song, with two lovers eschewing sleepier, more secure lives in favor of living life to its fullest, “livin’ on the edge” because “it’s a hell of a view.” It’s a tale we’ve heard a hundred times before, and while there are a few clever lines (“I caught your wings on fire
when I smoked my Bronco tires out of that town” is a notable standout), most of the track features the usual clichés: The disapproving parents, the chasing of experiences instead of money, and the typical rebellious statements about “nothin’ to lose” and “livin’ on the edge.” (Given the track’s radio-friendly nature, it’s a song that does not practice what it preaches.) There’s also a lot of annoyingly vague moments here: What does the narrator mean when they tell the other person “you paint your purple sky”? Exactly what is the couple doing that’s so crazy and invigorating? Put it all together, and you’ve got a story that isn’t of interest to anyone beyond the participants.
The irony of all this is that despite the protagonists charting their own path through life and accepting the risks, “Hell Of A View” is the safest, zero-risk play that Eric Church could have possibly made. As a result, it blends in far too easily with the rest of the Blandemic tracks, with run-of-the-mill production, vocals that lack inspiration, and writing that barely pushes the envelope at all. If Church was so adamant that country music start telling the stories of the forgotten, struggling masses, why didn’t he practice what he preached here? He didn’t get to be “Entertainer Of The Year” by being this boring and predictable, and he won’t get that honor again unless he finds stronger, more-interesting stories to tell in the future.
Rating: 5/10. Stick something better in your country song.