Eric Church is a mainstream country artist being marketed as a modern outlaw. His music does owe more to Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynrd than pop, but it is still radio friendly country music.
However, this shouldn't be held against him. His first two albums had a number of great songs, and "Chief" builds on that success, while adding a heavy dose of experimentation. At times, he stretches his trademark sound by bringing in obvious outside influences. He channels Kid Rock on the lighthearted party anthem Drink In My Hand and touches of Black Crowes show up on the interesting lead off track Creepin'. Lead single Homeboy brings in hip hop loops to back a big brother anthem, which falls flat with its stereotypical view on the city versus country debate. His ode to summer love, Springsteen, is his most poppy song to date, but works well. The high energy highlight Creepin' provides the sonic extreme to the album's other best song, Like Jesus Does. The slow ballad tells a tale of a woman who loves her man, even though he doesn't deserve it. It's nice to see Church step away from his tough guy image for a few minutes. His songs are strongest when they are heartfelt, but too often he falls back on the outlaw image and puts out a stereotypical drinking/ fighting/ bad boy song.
Some listeners may be drawn to his hard drinking party anthems, while others will like his by-the-numbers love songs. It is nice to see Church expanding his horizons a little, but it results in a slightly schizophrenic album, where he takes on the roles of nice guy, loud mouthed good ol' boy and rock star. The music is better than most radio friendly country these days and definitely his best release yet.