To start off 2021 on a great note, 27-year-old country artist Morgan Wallen has blessed us with Dangerous: The Double Album, a new release containing 30 tracks. Breaking records on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, Wallen claimed the title of most streams by a country album in one week with 240 million U.S. streams by January 14th. The Wall Street Journal credits Wallen and his country music contemporaries, such as Luke Combs and Sam Hunt, for a 15% spike in country music streams in 2020. Today, country music is closer in popularity to genres such as hip-hop, rock, and pop than it has ever been. Why, you ask? Let me answer with a deep dive into Wallen’s new album.
Yes, Morgan Wallen is a country artist, but much of his music is palatable to even the fiercest anti-country music listeners. He employs relatable lyrics, catchy melodies, pop-like sound production, and a uniquely fervent, raspy voice. Between the 30 tracks on the album, Wallen covers multiple thematic and musical bases while remaining loyal to the country umbrella through his lyrical content (small towns, Whiskey, trucks, and girls), distinct accent, and use of the banjo and guitar. There are catchy pop songs: Wasted on You, Warning, Livin’ The Dream. Slow ballads: Sand In My Boots, and Cover Me Up. Tear-provoking nostalgia: Somebody’s Problem, 865, Whiskey’d my Way, 7 Summers, and Quittin’ Time. Fun, light, uplifting tracks: Dangerous, Blame it On Me, and Need a Boat. Some soft, rock: Neon Eyes, Still Goin Down, This Bar, and Me on Whiskey. And of course, hardcore electric country, as evidenced by the songs’ titles: Rednecks, Red Letters Red Dirt, Beer Don’t, Somethin’ Country, and Country A$$ Sh*t. Finally, there are the soulful heartwarmers: Outlaw, Only Thing That’s Gone, More Than My Hometown, Me On Whiskey, and Silverado for Sale. Listen to these while driving down a highway on a sunny day and try not to smile.
If you’re a long-time Morgan Wallen fan, you might notice that a few of the album’s songs are not new. Wallen’s version of the Jason Isbell song Cover Me Up, for example, was first released in April of 2019. Wallen released This Bar as a single in December of 2019, More Than My Hometown in May of 2020, and 7 Summers in August of 2020. Just over one month before Dangerous: The Double Album’s debut, Wallen gave us another taste by releasing three of the album’s songs: Somebody’s Problem, Livin’ The Dream, and Still Goin Down. So, only 21 of the album’s 30 tracks were truly ‘new’ as of January 8th. Not that 21 new songs is anything short of a gift.
During my first listen, I was puzzled by Wallen’s inclusion of some of these already-released songs. It felt like a cop-out. Upon reflection, however, it is clear that each song truly belongs where it is. They provide the listener with not only a sense of familiarity and comfort amid the overflow of novelty, but also a sense of cohesion. The otherwise singular songs find their place within a comprehensive narrative.
In an interview for Spotify, Wallen compared Dangerous: The Double Album to his first album, If I Know Me (2018). “It’s a more personal one to me,” Wallen said of Dangerous. “I’ve grown as a person and as an artist.” This honesty and growth is abundantly clear in each track – Wallen is sweet, sentimental, enthusiastic, and charmingly authentic.
Of all the compliments I can give to the album, the most salient one is simple: there is truly not one bad song. That’s pretty rare for any album, not to mention one with 30 songs. Sure, I have favorites; if I had to choose two, I’d probably go with Outlaw and Silverado for Sale. But I can, and have, listened to the album from start to finish without one skip, and I highly recommend that you do too.