While most of Wallen’s latest tracks let me down and have left me crying like a steel guitar, there are a few songs that just might be country’s next big hits.
Arguably today’s biggest country music star, Morgan Wallen, released his newest album, “One Thing at a Time,” on March 3. It’s been two years since his last cut, “Dangerous Sessions,” took the music scene by storm, breaking several records. Unfortunately, however, the 36-track album leaves much to be desired.
It’s believed that if you want to be taken seriously by true country music fans, it is essential to know acts such as the Carter Family, Hank Williams, Glen Campbell, George Strait and Garth Brooks, among others. It’s not as important to love country’s most popular stars, but rather to listen to those who have the traditional, sophisticated sound of country music. Wallen is not known for this, and thus, I have a love-hate relationship with his music.
I am not a country purist — meaning I don’t automatically discount a country song just because it does not scream classic country. However, I also refuse to admit Wallen was my most listened to artist on Spotify in 2022. When I think of Wallen, I don’t think of steel guitars or fiddles, but of sorority girls and fake country fans who simply want an excuse to wear the cute boots.
That said, I appreciate how Wallen isn’t afraid to be different. Listeners can hear this evidenced all throughout “One Thing at a Time,” which has rock and hip-hop influences.
Also to its credit, “One Thing at a Time” has graciously given us another heartbreak album during a time when boyfriend country (a trend where the singer fonds over his or her significant other) has yet to die.
Lastly, during a time when country music is once again starting to return to its roots, Wallen keeps doing his own thing. Though I will cling to the classic sound of country, I am thankful to have diversity.
The “Nope” Songs
While listening to “One Thing at a Time,” I would write either “nope” or “there’s hope” for each individual track. While not all are worth mentioning, the following are those that truly stand out in the “nope” category. Lamentably, most of these tracks don’t allow Wallen’s vocal ability to shine. If I only heard this album, I could understand my parents’ confusion regarding Wallen being today’s top country artist.
The opening track, “Born With a Beer in my Hand,” covers Wallen’s rocky past. The lyrics read like an Instagram apology caption, but I can’t tell if he takes ownership over his mistakes or not. In the lyrics he blames it all on his country roots. Nonetheless, it sets the tone for the album, both in its generic sound and its theme of Wallen’s love/hate relationship with alcohol.
The current leading track, commercially speaking, “Last Night,” has some acoustic fingerpicking but nothing unique, unlike previous Wallen songs such as “Chasin You” or “Wasted on You.”
Track number eight, “Ain’t That Some,” is a fun listen, but it also reminds me of something that would be used for cringy TikTok lip syncing. This song emphasizes how Wallen isn’t afraid to blatantly pander to fans by listing the most stereotypical country things, such as big trucks, cold beers, and faded boots. Still, I feel a bit of pride when I listen to Wallen’s country culture anthems such as “The Way I Talk” or “Still Goin Down.” Sadly, “Ain’t That Some,” is a cheap version of both of those.
The next track, “I Wrote the Book,” would have been redeemable if it wasn’t for the cheesy snap track. I constantly go back and forth on whether snap tracks should be used in country music (they do make things rather catchy like in “Neon Stars”), but in this instance, it erases the substance of the lyrics.
While I don’t think it’s a crime for an album to contain some country-pop, what I truly crave is an artist to pour his or her entire self into three chords. Track number 10, “Tennessee Numbers,” almost does this, but it doesn’t have that same heart-wrenching passion as Wallen’s “Sand in My Boots.”
In my opinion the worst track on the album, “Sunrise,” proved to me that snap tracks should be banished. It also hints that Wallen must be impossible to say no to, because no genuine friend would allow this song to be published.
A part of me resonates with the casualness of Wallen’s lyrics, but lyrics such as “You’re the memories I’m drinkin’ / you’re the thoughts I’m always thinkin’ / girl it don’t matter how far I run / you’re the one that I can’t run from” show just how unoriginal “Sunrise” is.
Because “Sunrise” crushed my standards, I first thought “Keith Whitley” was a nice tune. It follows the trend of listing classic songs from the past — in this case songs from Keith Whitley. However, I soon realized that just because a song lists the greats does not mean it’s great. Compare “Keith Whitley” to Whitley’s “Miami my Amy” and you’ll see what I mean.
It took a lot for me to make it through the entirety of “I Deserve a Drink.” Devin Dawson, who’s known for one of my favorite songs, “All on Me,” was a contributing writer on this. I can hear Dawson’s influence, but it reminds me of something I would write at 3 a.m., thinking it’s genius, but in reality, it probably should be scrapped.
It’s nearly impossible to find a Wallen song that doesn’t mention alcohol. As a teetotaler myself, I still manage to find myself in his songs because of their raw emotion. However, lyrics from “I deserve a Drink” like, “Cause you’re burnin’ hotter than a bourbon with no water / And I want your buzz in my veins,” simply don’t do it for me.
The Positive Notes
Thankfully, “One Thing at a TIme” does have a few shining moments such as track number three, “Everything I Love,” which is not only relatable, but it actually sounds different than the other 35.
“Man Made a Bar,” featuring Eric Church, is another highlight. Esteemed country singer/songwriter, Larry Fleet, was one of the contributing writers, and this can be seen throughout the witty and heartfelt lyrics. Instrumentally, it never bores and even appears to have used a steel guitar.
“Devil Don’t Know” also feels very country. The chorus reminds me of what I consider to be one of the greatest country songs, “I’d Be Better Off (In a Pine Box)” by Doug Stone. I am also beginning to appreciate the album’s more upbeat tracks too such as “Thinkin’ Bout Me” and the haunting melody of “Cowgirls” featuring ERNEST.
“Thought You Should Know,” which was released around Mother’s Day as a promotional single, is also stunning. It might not contain Wallen’s impressive belts, but I am realizing Wallen doesn’t need to try too hard vocally to impress. It simply comes naturally for him.
Country music commentator, Grady Smith, spoke on the lyrics of “Thought You Should Know,” citing their authenticity in showing how a son expresses his love for his mother. “There’s something very guyish of that sort of side stepping intimacy where you’re really feeling vulnerable and then you kind of brush it off saying ‘I just thought you should know,’” Smith said.
Another early released single, “Don’t Think Jesus” had me obsessed before it was even officially released on Good Friday. When I first heard it, I sent it to several of my friends and family. I hadn’t heard anything like it nor heard anything so honestly sung. Wallen expressed it’s a personal favorite for him too. He took to Instagram writing, “some of my friends sent me a song today … They wrote this song with me in on [sic] their mind and made me cry in the truck.”
Adding to the highlights, the last five tracks are all quite good. The grand finale, “Outlook,” a song that I personally relate to, and “Dying Man,” contain some of Wallen’s most mature lyrics, such as when he sings in “Dying Man,” “twenty-one lookin’ thirty, but actin’ half my age / Bound to hit a wall before I ever hit the brakes.”
The best song on “One Thing at a Time” was easily “’98 Braves.” If it takes Wallen 36 songs to release something like “’98 Braves,” then I’m fine with that. This is one that girls on TikTok were sobbing to upon its release Friday morning. It’s one that I fell in love with at first listen. It is gut-wrenching but strangely hopeful. It’s simply witty and heavenly and has everything I prayed for in Wallen’s release. I almost paid the $1.29 plus tax for it!
“’98 Braves” randomly yet remarkably compares the 1998 Atlanta Braves season to a failed relationship that had so much potential. “Yeah, you win some, you lose some, it ain’t always home runs / And that’s just the way life plays / If we were a team, and love was a game / We would’ve been the ’98 Braves,” sings Wallen. Every lyric vividly paints a classic country song made for a modern audience.
Maybe I have been a little harsh on Wallen. After listening to this album on repeat, several of the songs are starting to grow on me. Still, when I compare it to his past work, I’m ready for the next album; something revolutionary. I know Wallen can do better, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for the rest of his career.