Monday, April 25th, 2011

Eric Church – Homeboy

Would’ve done a pun about going to Church on Easter Sunday, but it’s a mite late for that now…


Martin Skidmore: Church is an intelligent songwriter and a strong country singer, with some imaginative flair in the arrangements too — I really like him, though I am less sure about the sentiments here.

Josh Love: A touching song about a man entreating his younger brother to cast off one cartoonishly cliched lifestyle in favor of another. One of these lifestyles is noble and honorable and satisfying and full of tender love and ice cold beer. The other is mean and selfish and scary and full of cruelty towards old people. Can you guess which one involves wearing “pants on the ground” and a “hip-hop hat?”

Anthony Easton: In the age of Eminem, the idea that working class culture is best represented in hip-hop and not country music is important. Also, country ceded the current for the nostalgic a long time ago (maybe the 70s?).

Michaelangelo Matos: Right: he can’t fool the country-singing narrator, but he can fool the hood into thinking he’s a hardened inner-city criminal. Solution: rip off the plot of the Lost Trailers’ “Holler Back” but recast it as hard-bitten tough love (“It ain’t a glamorous life/But it’ll keep you out of jail”) turned family-responsibility sermon. Very valley-of-the-shadow-of-death of him.

Chuck Eddy: Can’t decide whether this sounds more like a morose folk song or a clanging industrial song — probably a good sign, seeing as how it’s a hard-droning country song. And it’s also, of course, a brotherly advice song, and a big part of the advice is basically “stop trying to dress like a rapper,” so accuse Eric of another r-word if you need to. But I think that’d be missing the point, since the hip-hop cap and low-riding trousers and fake gold teeth (and tattoos) clearly signify rebellion more than blackness. You get the idea that big bro’s done some rebelling himself, and little bro’s not fooling him, so Eric’s passing on his hard-earned knowledge. Or maybe he’s just jealous he didn’t leave first, so he’s warning the kid not to get above his raisin’ (since, in modern Nashville, only the ladies are allowed to search for adventure beyond the farm — the dudes stay put). Might be ignorant guidance; it’s a big world worth exploring, and a Yelawolf in the family might be cool, right? But even though we never quite find out why exactly the junior sibling’s a jail risk, the conversation rings true and powerful, contradictions and hypocrisies and all. “That old tractor got my home boys” — Woody Guthrie rapped that, back in 1940 or so.

Josh Langhoff: As a narrative I buy it, because I know the Brother. Back in high school he had ridiculous dreadlocks instead of a “hip-hop hat” and the rest, he didn’t push Daddy around but he did spend some time in jail, and now he’s a solid taxpaying citizen with strong family ties. Small predominantly-white towns SUCK in many ways, so you try to escape to the first Other that comes along, and your conception of that Other is probably based on the broadest stereotypes, and maybe you pair those stereotypes with violence because that’s an Other too. The problem is, Church isn’t handing this sermon to his wayward Brother as a private press 45. As a cautionary tale “Homeboy” is worthless, because any real-life Brothers won’t listen to it. No, Church is preaching to a public country audience, much of which already views hip-hop culture as an Other and equates it with violence. But I’M Church’s audience too, and maybe lots of us know Brothers of our own and “Homeboy” touches us as a well-constructed piece of songcraft. Job well done! On the other hand, “Homeboy” is definitely constructed — Church and co-writer Casey Beathard have invented this Brother, the fake gold on his teeth, and his superficial take on Otherness. They’ve also appropriated the word “homeboy” and the synths from the hip-hop culture they’re dissing. They’re hypocrites and opportunists. But the synths sound great, and the lyrical twist “come on home, boy” is deeply felt; this song isn’t glib about Otherness like the go-to pariah “Beer for My Horses”. Finally all my back-and-forth on “Homeboy” zips it up into a tense interlocking bundle of contradictions that I can’t separate from how much I enjoy its details, guitars, and narrator, even if he’s using his bully pulpit to congratulate his country’s narrowest minds.

Zach Lyon: For years, the go-to Myspace “Favorite Music” answer for obnoxious people was “pretty much everything except country and rap”. It’s different now (rap, at least, is more acceptable) but seeing the two of them together in the same box for so long basically made them brothers to me. Country and rap are similar, almost inextricably so, on a surface/demographic/political level (on a musical level, R&B is probably a better comparison for country), at least to many of us that like to defend them both but aren’t so immersed in either to miss the relation. And that’s what really pisses me off about “Homeboy.” I wish I could say it’s the bubbling racism that does it for me, but really, it’s just disappointing to hear a country musician shit all over hip-hop culture when my mind wants the two genres to see each other as comrades. Church confronts his brother in the nastiest way, trying to entice him with the promise of a stereotypical country existence simply because that’s what he was born into, and he occasionally breaks into such a judgmental voice that the lyrics are spat more than sung. It’s a bit easier to swallow if you convince yourself the brother is selling meth (as they considered at The 9513) or is Yelawolf (which is kind of funny), but any good will is squandered by the production. Church once again lets instrumental ADD get the best of him, and this whole thing is all over the place with too many introductions to symphonies and heavy guitars and lighter guitars and more symphonies. Some of it sounds nice but most of it sounds like some sort of badly-executed prog-country. Church needs to take his own advice: drink a cold one and calm the fuck down. It blows that he still seems to have one of the most charismatic voices in country and it’s wasted on something like this.

Alfred Soto: The pun in the title reflects Church’s complicated feelings: he doesn’t want his buddy to wear tattoos or pants like the scary black kids he spotted on the wrong side of the tracks so he urges him to return to a suffocating blue collar life in the country surrounded by “kin.” I don’t hear racial “dog whistles” so much as genuine anxiety about the fate of a friend and maybe the singer projecting his own unease about living in less, um, urban environs. “We both know who you are,” he reminds him. The shift from folk to arena rock matches Church’s man-sized love; his “do this for me, buddy” is very touching – we don’t often get male friendship articulated so unambivalently. It’s fascinating though how the women — Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson and the girls to whom they’re writing — can’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge. Hell, they’d burn Dodge to the ground if they could.

12 Responses to “Eric Church – Homeboy”

  1. The pro- and anti-Martina McBride contingents have switched sides!

  2. I was “pro” on both! Prefer the McBride to this, but I’m not sure by how much; came a lot closer to giving this a mere “8” (which maybe I should have, time will tell). Still, Zach Lyon’s dismissive description “(“lets instrumental ADD get the best of him, and this whole thing is all over the place with too many introductions to symphonies and heavy guitars and lighter guitars and more symphonies”) sounds good to me. And we both mentioned Yelawolf! Meth had occurred to me, too, actually, when I was wondering about the jail-risk stuff; hadn’t seen that 9513 writeup, but I like Breaking Bad a lot. Anyway, bottom line is that both this and McBride’s song are basically rock songs. Hers probably rocks harder, but this might rock (or at least drone) louder. (And if it makes anybody feel a little better about Eric Church’s opinion of rap music, it might be worth mentioning that he shows up on the first song on country-rapper Colt Ford’s new album–only two tracks before Nappy Roots show up.)

  3. Can we talk about Colt Ford a bit Chuck?


  4. I already did, extensively, here:

    Probably overrated him a little, though. (And his new album isn’t as good as his first two, despite having a song called “Titty’s Beer” on it that basically consists of dumb boob jokes.)

  5. Awesome. I’ve listened to one album, and read yr review, but can’t quite get there.


  6. Awesome that we both mentioned Yelawolf. My problem with the music is cemented by the same shit in “Smoke a Little Smoke” which just enraged me with its attention span, so he was on a short leash. I do love the first change at 0:34, but once the hard rock guitars come in I can’t stand it. Just seems like another missed opportunity.

    I did rate this lower than my enjoyment of it, but it’s hard to balance the personal and the political etc etc etc

  7. I thought the music in “Smoke A Little Smoke” was great:

    In fact, now I’m not sure why I gave this one a better grade; I might actually like “Smoke” more; it’s definitely got more energy.

  8. I guess it’s slightly weird that you all are so okay with the demonization of baggy pants, hip-hop hats and the like, but really, really mad at Katy Perry for professing her desire to get with an alien… which really, I continue to insist, could mean a million things before it means race, like the proverbial dark (as in tan), mysterious, and handsome stranger. That said, the racism (if you want to call it that) in this song doesn’t bother me much either, it’s not much different from telling one’s brother to stop dressing like a stupid goth, if they still exist, but I am really bothered by the “come back home to ice cold beer and traditional rural white ways” part, as many of you were.

  9. “demonization” isn’t what’s going on here exactly

  10. To be fair, I’m probably the one most irritated with Katy Perry, and I haven’t even heard this to discern how irritated I’d be.

  11. Good blurbs here on both the pro and negative side. My difficulty with it is that it uses an outlaw tone to pitch a family values message. I could buy the story better if its delivery weren’t so dissonant.

  12. I would absolutely love to hear a response song to this (because as people here have pointed out, there are perfectly cogent reasons why the brother’s reason could be either total bullshit or completely necessary). Maybe Yelawolf could do it?