Morgan Wallen has skyrocketed to become one of country music’s most successful artists in recent years, gaining popularity through his relatable image and emotional, whiskey-soaked country-rock tunes. However, his journey has been riddled with controversy, starting with his removal from a Saturday Night Live appearance in 2020 for violating pandemic guidelines. Then in February of the following year, a video surfaced of Wallen using a racial slur, leading to Nashville temporarily withdrawing support for his music.
Despite the backlash and necessary discussions about race in country music, Wallen’s regular-guy persona and heartfelt romanticism kept his fan base streaming his music. His album Dangerous: The Double Album, released just a month before the video, had 30 tracks and was a streaming sensation, keeping his chart positions high. Wallen’s latest release, One Thing at a Time, is an even more impressive feat, boasting 36 tracks with no double-album disclaimer.
The abundance of Wallen’s music on One Thing at a Time is sure to keep it at the top of the charts for some time, alongside Dangerous, which is currently sitting at number five on the Billboard 200. The album showcases Wallen’s preferred musical and lyrical styles, as well as his love for simple, memorable vocal melodies. His signature sound is most comfortable on mid-tempo tracks that blend hard rock with Nashville touches like starlit slide guitars, while other songs nod to wider musical trends such as the trap snares in “Sunrise” or the Rich Gang interpolation in the “red-dirt wild child” chronicle, “180 (Lifestyle).” The album’s title track combines country twang with snappy pop rock, reminiscent of the New Wave-leaning efforts of early-Eighties AOR acts.
Wallen’s lyrics primarily focus on bars, beers, whiskey, and women who are often unattainable due to recent breakups or other attachments. The songs he’s co-written and selected for One Thing often use central metaphors to make more precise observations. For example, “98 Braves” compares a failed relationship to the titular Atlanta baseball team that had a great regular season but lost during the championship series. “Wine Into Water,” a country-fried ballad, flips Jesus’ wedding miracle into a hope for reconciliation with an ex. “You Proof,” which peaked at number five on the Hot 100 last year, compares a lover’s intoxicating qualities to high-grade whiskey.
One Thing at a Time doesn’t directly reference Wallen’s controversial status, but “Don’t Think Jesus,” a song about growing up in a judgment-filled world, touches on the idea of fallout from screwups. “World likes to rear back and throw a few stones/So boy wants to throw a few stones of his own,” Wallen muses before changing course, saying, “But Lord knows I ain’t perfect, and it ain’t my place/And I don’t think Jesus done it that way.” Wallen released the track on Good Friday 2022, which seemed like a half-hearted apology. In the context of One Thing at a Time, it’s a brief moment of near-introspection that’s quickly overshadowed by more songs about good whiskey, bad decisions, and heartaches from hard living.
Morgan Wallen is one of country music’s most popular and controversial stars, whose music continues to capture the hearts of fans despite his past mistakes. One Thing at a Time, his latest album, showcases Wallen’s musical and lyrical preferences, and its abundance of tracks ensures that it will stay on top of the charts for some time. Though the album doesn’t address his controversial status directly, “Don’t Think Jesus” touches on the idea