Review – Joe Nichols’ “Freaks Like Me”

Joe Nichols Freaks Like Me

If you asked me in the mid-2000s who were my favorite male country artists, I would have put Joe Nichols near the top of the list. For years Nichols along with the likes of Josh Turner and Gary Allan consistently gave us solid traditionally rooted country music. Fast-forward to today and only Turner is the only one who hasn’t sold out in any way. Nichols cashed-in hard on the bro country movement over the last few years with terrible songs like “Yeah,” “Sunny and 75” and “Hard to be Cool.” At least the last one was disappointing at radio, as it gave me hope that maybe it would inspire Nichols to get away from the trends. Not only that, but Nichols questioned trend chasing this past year in this interview. Even more encouraging was a recent interview in Billboard where he had this to say when asked about staying true to yourself:

If everybody is chasing something in the format and trying to be what the last guy is, I think it gives me the perfect opportunity to stay true to myself and be who I am. I think that sets me apart from the next guy in line. I think there are times when that’s given me the benefit of the doubt at radio — maybe more than I deserve. A lot of people are trying to make something that sounds exactly like the last hit that was on the radio, and there are times when we try to outsmart the genre. I just try to be myself, and hopefully that works. If it doesn’t, I’m fine with that. 

If this is the start of turning over a new leaf and going back to what made him great, then I’m excited to hear the new album from Nichols. But for now we get our first glimpse to see if he can back up his talk with his new single “Freaks Like Me.”

One thing that immediately stands out about this single is it’s a big improvement over the last three in that I’m not annoyed by the sound or the lyrics. It’s actually country, which in today’s world of country radio is already putting you ahead of 90% of the other songs. A steel guitar makes any song sound better than one with synth and EDM beats. As for the song itself it’s an anthem to the average, everyday person. Nichols sings about being out of style, drinking beer after five, opening doors for ladies, being proud of his country and Jesus. All of this adds up to him declaring himself to be a…freak. What? Here’s the chorus:

Freaks like me, just outside the in crowd
Freaks like me, out of style and damn proud
Raise a can, ‘cause I’m a fan
Of everyone who’s turned out to be
Freaks like me

I’m not really sure how he has come to this conclusion. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word freak as the following: “one that is markedly unusual or abnormal.” I think everyone can agree that the kind of person Nichols describes himself as doesn’t match this definition. What he sounds like is the stereotypical country music fan that songs on the radio have been describing for years. I guess you could make the argument that he’s being ironic, but I don’t think he is and comes off quite earnest. If that’s what the writers of this song, Monty Criswell, Josh Thompson and Lynn Hutton, were going for they missed the mark. You know what I would have done to have this song make more sense? Replace the word “freak” with “joes,” as this song describes the average joe. Now read the chorus above with my replacement. Makes more sense, no? Also his name is Joe, so you get a corny pun that some would like. It would be an improvement at least.

“Freaks Like Me” is basically an okay, average song that has a confusing premise. It sounds country and Nichols sounds great, which are its biggest pros. The lyrics are just clichéd and stuff we’ve heard before, but they’re passable and not really offensive nor do they standout. Joe Nichols makes a step in the right direction with this song, but he needs to take it further if he wants to standout and prove that he’s a country freak in a world of non-country music trying to be country. I think that’s what he should have went for with this song if he was so insistent on the freak thing, as it would kind of funny to label yourself as a freak for making country music in country music. But ultimately “Freaks Like Me” is just middle of the road.

Grade: 5.5/10

6 thoughts on “Review – Joe Nichols’ “Freaks Like Me”

  1. Raymond September 28, 2015 / 11:09 am

    I was having trouble deciding if it was ok or good. The lyrics are painfully cliche but I constantly have to give credit to Joe as he always manages to sell it. The nice country sound feels nice as it feels modern while not abandoning the country music sound. So I think Joe stuck to his guns with the sound but I think there was a little compromise lyric wise.

    Overall I’m thinking a 6/10 but 5.5 is understandable

    I hope this does well at radio but the fact that Craig Morgan got more adds on impact than Joe has me concerned hopefully this can be a sleeper hit.

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  2. Kevin Davis September 28, 2015 / 11:31 am

    I suppose “abnormal” and “unusual” in contrast to elitist or progressive American society. In fact, that is surely what is intended, heightened by the music video’s use of retro video images of 1950’s white American life. So, yeah, it is hardly abnormal in conservative — especially rural, evangelical, Southern — parts of America today, but it is self-consciously against the prevailing cultural trends. In that regard, it is to be a “freak.”

    And you may remember in the mid-90’s, there was a renewed “Jesus Freak” phenomenon, thanks to the multi-platinum Jesus Freak album by DC Talk, which had a similar message of defiance against the culture and a sense of oneself as outcast or abnormal.

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  3. Lorenzo September 28, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    (I just gave a listen to the diarrhetic thomas rhett album and “Freaks Like Me” sounds like Heaven now), but I really agree with what you’re saying. I’d give the song 6/10 for being country enough and because I really love Joe’s voice. I usually use the word “freak” to describe a monster, so it don’t make much sense to me. maybe it was a kind of trying-to-get-some-attention hook but it actually sucks. however I see the single positively. I’m not really offended by Joe’s previous three singles, I enjoy them as pleasant easy-going pop songs, but his album Crickets would’ve been much greater if it wasn’t for boring and stupid tracks like “Hee Haw”, “Y’ant To”, “Gotta Love It” or “Open Up a Can”.

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  4. Derek Hudgin September 28, 2015 / 5:07 pm

    This is rather middle of the road to me. At least he’s not pandering to bro trends, but the lyrics are still kind of cliche.

    Thankfully it has a nice production to it.

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  5. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria September 28, 2015 / 5:37 pm

    “What he sounds like is the stereotypical country music fan that songs on the radio have been describing for years.”

    Well…I’d think that “stereotypical country music fans,” who talk with a drawl, drive jacked-up trucks, are farmers, drink, fish, party all night, love Jesus, and are “true Americans”…actually aren’t that common. At least, that’s the way I see it—it’s hard for me to imagine someone living a life exactly like that. Nichols touches on many of those cliches during the song, so maybe that’s the angle that the songwriters were going for—actually characterizing the “stereotypical country music fan” as a freak? Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to say someone like that is a “freak”…but it still seems like an abnormal life to me. I don’t really know.

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  6. brettp September 29, 2015 / 5:54 pm

    Couldnt agree more with top artists of mid 2000s, that was my high school hey days and personally Gary Allan was tops for me. This song reminds me of those times slightly. Production is good and is certainly a step in the right direction for mainstream radio. Joe Nichols is quite the talent, like all these artists, you yearn for their early years though, especially lately. I rarely have anything bad to say bout Joe, his cover of “Footlights” on his last album was phenomenal. I would love a classic country covers album from him, he can sing Hag with the best of them.

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