Okay, I know this isn’t a single, but fans have been getting it as an instant download when they pre-order ‘The Outsiders’ album on iTunes, so I figured I’d review it (to calm some of my crazy excitement over the release, which happens to be streaming at NPR RIGHT NOW!!).
The first thing that can be determined from ‘A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young’, apart from the exhausting title, is that it is remarkably similar to ‘Like Jesus Does’. Remarkably so. I am referring of course to the acoustic version (not that the studio version was particularly rowdy) that featured in the song’s music video and Eric’s performance on last year’s ACM Awards (featuring the awesome Valerie June). With a similar picking pattern and key, a vocal delivery just as gentle and adhering to the same phrasing, those who weren’t so familiar with Eric would be immediately forgiven for thinking they were the same song. Particularly as the lyrics run in a similarly thoughtful and redemptive vein to ‘Like Jesus Does’.
It’s a shame, because if ‘Like Jesus Does’ had never existed, ‘A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young’ would stand out as a beautiful piece of work (and it does, it just doesn’t shine so bright with the comparisons). It comes across immensely personal, and the way in which Eric mumbles some of the lyrics making them almost inaudible is so heart-stoppingly powerful I kind of wonder why more people haven’t got onto this technique. Sure, it doesn’t make for the kind of technically on-point delivery that we might be used to, enunciating so that fans can sing along, but that is entirely the opposite of what they are trying to achieve with this song. This is notably how it begins to differ from ‘Like Jesus Does’, in how authentic and deep it becomes as it progresses. The story involves a 36-year-old rebel’s realization that he is older than both Hank and Jesus were when they died, and the startling truth that despite living so fast in his youth, he’s survived because of his love, and admits that for the first time he’d be happy to carry on living into old age, because of her.
As a sentiment, it’s rather beautiful, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it caused a tear or two among listeners (not me, I’m ice cold). There’s also some new dynamics that lift the song a little, such as the gentle but bluesy guitar solo (although it’s over way too quickly). I would have liked a little less repetition in the acoustic pattern, but perhaps it was kept that simple to draw further attention to the lyrics and vocals, which is does nicely.
I doubt this will be a single, because of its similarity to ‘Like Jesus Does’ and because it is simply too quiet and thoughtful to make any ground on country radio, but it was a great track to release as promo as it doesn’t give too much away, but has more than enough meaning embedded in its 3 minutes and 13 seconds of play. I’m sure ‘A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young’ will be a fan favorite.