I once told a friend that Morgan Wallen’s career runs on other people’s music and an excellent PR team. His newest album, “One Thing at a Time,” only corroborates this. Wallen’s third studio album was released on March 3, and soared to No. 1 on the country charts to become Spotify’s most-streamed country artist in a single day by a male artist.
“One Thing at A Time” led him to No. 1 not just on the Billboard country charts, but also on the Billboard Hot 100, typically dominated by pop and rap artists. He edged out the likes of Drake, Miley Cyrus and SZA.
After a fiasco in February 2021 (soon after the release of his first album, “Dangerous: The Double Album”) where the artist was filmed hurling the “n-word” after a drunken night out with friends, Wallen was temporarily suspended by his label and banned from award shows. This was merely a bump in the road. His PR team worked overtime, and Wallen was soon back to being country music’s golden boy.
Wallen has a penchant for releasing one massive double album rather than two over a longer period. Both “One Thing at a Time” and “Dangerous: The Double Album” are 36 tracks that clock in at 2 hours long. It seems Wallen’s strategy is quantity and not quality. He pulls on the standard, safe themes of country music: hometown, alcohol, women and regrets.
The issue with the album isn’t necessarily its recycling of old themes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – it’s the lack of creativity in doing so. He’s far from unique in doing this; fellow popular country artist Luke Combs often releases songs that explore similar themes. The difference between them is Combs’ songs always have a well-crafted narrative with intricate lyrics, while Wallen’s redundancy is grating.
The 49 co-writers on Wallen’s album also diminish its uniqueness and take away that personal touch many country fans crave. Only having his name on 14 out of 36 songs is just a lazy way of doing country music. I’m curious what Wallen told his songwriters. I assume it’s that he needed an album chock full of songs on vague self-awareness – STAT!
His first single from “One Thing at A Time” released in May 2022 called, “Thought You Should Know,” actually gave me hope. Perhaps this truly would be a vulnerable album that shows a more personal side of Wallen, but I was mistaken. It went downhill from there. His two other singles, “You Proof” and “Last Night” go back to his safety net of missing a woman and getting drunk.
In the album’s first song, “Born With A Beer In My Hand,” Wallen sings about his past mistakes with alcohol and then, in “Whiskey Friends,” he sings about his past mistakes with alcohol, (“Looks like I did it again, me and my stupid mouth/I dug myself into a hole in the wall and I gotta drink my way out”) and then, in “Me + All Your Reasons,” he sings about his past mistakes with alcohol (“Copenhagen, whiskey straight, and/Empty bottle, promise breakin’/All the ways I let you down, down”) and then he sings again about his past mistakes with alcohol in “Keith Whitley” (“Good whiskey/Girl, it just don’t last when Keith Whitley/Keeps bringin’ you up like that/Gets me drinkin’ ’bout us and what it was”).
If you feel like he’s lacking in the “I made mistakes with alcohol” area, don’t worry – that was only a snippet of the album’s songs that explored the theme. There are plenty more to choose from: “Don’t Think Jesus” and “Man Made A Bar” are two I recommend if you want to hear more about Wallen and his mistakes with alcohol. By the 20th song, I thought he was creating satire about the bro-country subgenre.
Wallen’s one saving grace on “One Thing at A Time” is his renowned production team of Ryan Vojtesak (who produces under the name Charlie Handsome), Cameron Montgomery and Joey Moi. Vojetesak and Montgomery have been part of production teams for non-country, massively successful artists mainstream artists like Post Malone, Travis Scott, The Weeknd and even Kanye West, while Moi has engineered the discography of Canadian rock group Nickelback alongside Wallen’s Nashville peers Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen. The team offers Wallen some experimental sounds then amplifies his drawl to give it that good ol’ boy vibe he’s so known for. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The most interesting songs on the album have the same emotional depth as an empty above ground swimming pool. “’98 Braves” (written by John Byron, Josh Miller and Travis Wood) compares heartbreak to a favorite baseball team losing in the playoffs.
Looking at “Dangerous: The Double Album” and “One Thing at A Time,” it seems Wallen all but released the same album twice. However, I would argue that “Dangerous” is, overall, a much more lyrically and thematically complex album than “One Thing At A Time” could ever hope to be.
But any criticism of Morgan Wallen or his music doesn’t matter. In my own efforts to give a comprehensive and fair review of “One Thing at A Time,” I listened to the nearly 2-hour long album three times. Because of that, I’m part of the crowd pushing him to the top.