On Morgan Wallen’s new album, 36 songs, no apologies

The tune “Outlook” arrives 35 tracks into Morgan Wallen’s 36-track behemoth of a brand new album, which implies that by the point you lastly get to it, you’re fairly nicely primed for no matter hard-won information he’s bought to drop. And for the tune’s first few traces about “20/20 hindsight vision,” it appears clear the place the nation star goes: Two years after he was caught on video drunkenly utilizing the N-word to check with a pal — an incident that sparked widespread debate about nation music’s historic relationship with race — the start of “Outlook” means that Wallen has achieved some critical fascinated with the way in which he views the world and his place in it.

Then the refrain hits.

“Now my outlook on life is different than it used to be,” he sings over fingerpicked acoustic guitar, “My outlook is: Someone’s up there looking down and looking out for me.”

Wallen’s realization about white male privilege, in different phrases, is that it seems like a blessing.

Which after all it has been. “Dangerous,” Wallen’s 2021 double LP, withstood a short second of backlash to turn into that 12 months’s greatest album of any style, and no fewer than three advance cuts from the brand new challenge, “One Thing at a Time,” are presently within the prime 10 of Billboard’s nation singles chart, together with the sensual “Last Night,” which simply logged its third week at No. 1. Thanks to expected-to-be-ginormous numbers on Spotify and the like, “One Thing at a Time” will nearly actually debut atop the Billboard 200 simply as Wallen prepares to launch a U.S. stadium tour positive to be among the many 12 months’s most profitable. (He’ll play Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium on July 22.)

In an period when streaming and TikTok have decentralized the music enterprise, diminishing the facility of its previous gatekeepers, the one vote that issues is the individuals’s, and clearly they’ve rallied behind Wallen; certainly, it’s not a lot somebody above who saved him from spoil however the tens of millions of devoted someones right here on Earth.

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The query concerning the brand new album, then, is how Wallen is using his privilege.

You would possibly marvel why (or whether or not) he has to reckon with it in any respect. By many accounts — together with these of distinguished Black artists such because the nation singer Darius Rucker and the rapper Lil Durk, with whom Wallen reduce the 2021 duet “Broadway Girls” — the 29-year-old singer isn’t any racist. He’s inarguably benefited from a system constructed on racism, sure, however in that he’s no completely different from numerous different white entertainers, politicians and businesspeople.

Across these three dozen songs, although, Wallen retains tiptoeing as much as the concept he’s made grave errors and realized worthwhile classes; he’s clearly conscious of the perceived must atone for what he did — “One Thing at a Time” isn’t a pugnacious, Kid Rock-style denouncement of the encroachments of cancel tradition — but he frequently stops wanting demonstrating any actual introspection. The result’s one thing of a paradox: an album weighed down by an obligation it refuses to shoulder.

Which could be simpler to reconcile if Wallen didn’t sometimes enter the culture-war fray in actual life, as when he accepted an invite to carry out at a latest inaugural celebration for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who this week signed a controversial invoice limiting drag performances in Wallen’s house state. Political activism like that chips away on the reasonableness of an artist’s expectation that his music be thought-about outdoors politics.

But one other signal of Wallen’s privilege is that he’s granted that leeway. So what’s there to note about “One Thing at a Time” past the truth that it dodges the robust points few in his viewers seemingly need him to have interaction? It’s too lengthy, for starters, although that goes with out saying in a streaming economic system whose set-it-and-forget-it ethos has additionally impressed marathon LPs by Zach Bryan and Luke Combs.

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Wallen has stated the album’s 36 tunes match into three teams: conventional nation songs, hip-hop-inspired songs and songs in a mode he calls “dirt rock” that pull from the ’80s-revivalist heartland-isms of the Killers and the War on Drugs. And for positive there are distinct examples of every, comparable to “Everything I Love,” which places lush vocal harmonies over a galloping beat à la basic Alabama; the throbbing “180 (Lifestyle),” which interpolates components of “Lifestyle” by Rich Gang, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan; and “Whiskey Friends,” which all however borrows the central riff from the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.”

But many of the relaxation blur collectively over almost two hours in a sound neatly triangulated by these kinds; the everyday Morgan Wallen tune blends nation, rap and rock in a approach much like the everyday Post Malone tune (albeit in barely completely different proportions). His talent as a singer — and he’s among the many most expert in Nashville — is the flexibleness of his voice, which might transfer from a snarl to a croon in just some traces; typically he does each in the identical line, as on “Money on Me,” an account of his propensity to disappoint through which he captures a mixture of disgrace and pleasure as he tells a possible lover, “Honestly, I wouldn’t put my money on me.”

His stream has gotten sharper than it was on “Dangerous”; he’s able to dealing with trickier cadences, as on the slinky “Me + All Your Reasons” and “Good Girl Gone Missin’,” which locations fast staccato phrases amid folky guitars. And his vocal runs in a tune like “Keith Whitley,” titled after the late nation singer, have an interesting gruffness even at their nimblest.

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Because “One Thing at a Time” is so uniform in its sound, what elevates any given tune is the depth and specificity of the songwriting, for which Wallen, a gifted author himself, enlisted dozens of Nashville execs for assist, together with his longtime buddies Hardy and Ernest together with Miranda Lambert, Hillary Lindsey and Ryan Hurd. (One approach to make sure your re-embrace by the nation institution: Become considered one of Music Row’s most dependable employers.)

The least attention-grabbing songs listed here are these about self-destruction and the hunt for redemption, not simply because they sidestep the particulars of Wallen’s notoriety however as a result of they lapse into tear-in-your-beer clichés — a failure of each braveness and style. Far extra vivid are numbers about intercourse like “Last Night” (“I kiss your lips / Make you grip the sheets with your fingertips”) and songs about misplaced love like “Tennessee Numbers,” through which he recollects the image of him and an ex that used to function the lock display on her telephone.

“’98 Braves” and “Tennessee Fan” use intelligent sports activities imagery in tales of romance, and “Thought You Should Know” addresses the singer’s mom with touching familiarity. Then once more, as soon as he tells her about his new girlfriend they usually have amusing in regards to the “dumb s—” his dad’s been as much as, he lets his mother know that “all those prayers you thought you wasted on me must’ve finally made their way on through.” Another downside solved.