Album Review – Morgan Wallen – “Dangerous: The Double Album”

If Morgan Wallen was a young male suitor in pursuit of your sister or daughter, he would be one of those beaus where it is undeniable they are trouble, with not just red flags flying right out in the open, but a rap sheet to back up these presuppositions—yet at the same time they possess an irresistible charisma that almost immediately drops guards, and they know how to say and do the right things at the right times to wiggle out of trouble, and to get one everyone’s good side, despite a pattern of bad behavior.

This is Morgan Wallen’s career and music in a nutshell. He will tell you, “No I swear baby, I won’t do it again. I’ve changed,” and then get arrested outside Kid Rock’s bar on Lower Broad. He’ll then tell you he’s learned his lesson, and is taking a break on social media, only to show up on Tik-Tok making out with random co-eds in Tuscaloosa when he’s supposed to be quarantining for SNL.

Morgan Wallen has charmed the majority of the mainstream country music listening public to the tune of becoming one of the most popular, if not the most popular artist at the moment right up there with Luke Combs, as well as charming many critics who hear some of Morgan’s more heady and sentimental material, and swoon.

But the truth of the matter is, your nose doesn’t lie. Morgan Wallen is a Bro-Country/Metro-Bro hybrid with some very bad radio singles, some even worse album cuts, who right about the time you’re ready to cut ties with, completely reels you right back in at the last minute by covering Jason Isbell. It’s pretty insidious, and smart. It’s also been very effective. After all, women love the bad boy they all think they can reform. That is the appeal of Morgan Wallen in a nutshell.

Dangerous: The Double Album is really the tale of two records. One is stuff you’re truly impressed with coming from such a popular mainstream country star, and one that affirms all of your foreboding concerns about this young man from east Tennessee with his mullet and cutoff sleeves. If anything, the balance of this record leans farther towards the less savory side of “country,” if some of these songs are even fair to label that. But it would be a lie, or unfair to overlook some of the better songs this album contains as well.

Perhaps producer Joey Moi has finally figured some things out. The fatal mistake he made as Florida Georgia Line’s producer was leaning too heavily on the ear candy that may burn bright upon release, but was never going to be graced with a shelf life, and ultimately became a burden. The duo’s monster singles are now the go-to examples of Bro-Country’s worst offenses, and when they tried to build some substance into the project, it was too little, too late. That’s not what those fans were there for.

So instead of simply focusing on radio singles, with Morgan Wallen, Joey Moi brings in some better songwriters like Josh Thompson. Then you throw in a cover Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” and critics lower their guard. Then release it all in a double album package which critics love as well, while it also allows you to suck up extra spins in the streaming era, assuring you a mammoth debut that will get you even greater attention beyond the country music sphere. It’s a pretty genius maneuver, however evil it might be.

Dangerous: The Double Album is not a great record. But it has some really good songs, and moments. Like a sweaty and anxious paramour standing on your front porch, it tries hard to make a good first impression with the opening song—the reminiscent and moody “Sand in My Boots.” Written by hit makers Ashley Gorley, Hardy, and Josh Osborne, it’s more the styling that makes this song feel meaningful, when really it’s a buzzy beach song with some country radio lyrical dog whistles like “Silverado,” “boots,” “beach,” “tequila,” and “whiskey.” Smart, but safe.

This leads into the equally sentimental-feeling “Wasted On You,” which wastes whatever decent writing it contains when a super stylized EDM drum beat kicks in, which is an immediate disqualifier for many actual country fans—same goes for the ultra-stylized Metro-Bro song “Warning” that comes at you a few songs later.

The majority of the first record ends up going like this, with songs that sometimes surprise you, even if there’s some repulsion due to certain turns of phrase, or production decisions. The best run of songs on the entirety of the two record set starts on Track 9 with the surprisingly country “Whiskey’d My Way,” and continues on through “Wondering ‘Bout The Wind,” “Your Bartender,” “Only Thing That’s Gone” with Chris Stapleton, into the cover of the aforementioned “Cover Me Up” from Jason Isbell’s 2013 album Southeastern.

If you cobbled together these songs with the other top tracks from this 30-song project, you might have a really stellar 10 or 12-track mainstream record, with many of these songs being Josh Thompson co-writes. But just like that bad boyfriend, you wait long enough, and you can be assured they’ll slip up and let you down.

The second Dangerous volume is darn near merciless in its attempt to make it up to all the mainstream country radio listeners for making them have to think and feel so much during the first disc. Unflinchingly, Morgan Wallen leans into list-tastic Bro-Country material punctuated by one braggadocios “I’m Country!” ode after another. You could try to cauterize this project at Disc 1 and salvage the experience, but what’s going on with it’s 2nd cousin is so debaucherous and incestuous, its ugliness oozes out to to make much of the entire effort feel skeezy.

“Map dot, southern rock, buckshot, stop sign; Grizz pack, mantle rack, channel cat, trot line,” the song “Beer Don’t” machine guns out in its first phrase, and that’s not even the most cliche “I’m country!” song of the lot. You also have “Somethin’ Country,” “Country Ass Shit,” and “Whatcha Think of Country Now.” Morgan Wallen and Joey Moi were even able to dig up the Godfather of Bro-Country—the one and only Dallas Davidson himself—and convince him to cease instigating fights at Nashville fern bars for long enough to contribute a couple of co-writes.

Basically, as soon as Morgan Wallen charms you to let him keep your sweet Caroline out until midnight, he wastes no time moving right into having unprotected sex. Disc 2 isn’t a total loss, just like Disc 1 is not all winners. “Need a Boat” is definitely a twangy country song, even if the lyrics don’t offer you much beyond even more laundry list country-isms. “Silverado For Sale” was a good song idea the first 20-something times it was iterated, but now this “if this truck could talk” idea just feels spent, as does any truck song.

It really takes you to the very end of the second installment to find something you can appreciate. “Living The Dream” is probably one of the best-written songs of the entire set, and seems very appropriate to Morgan Wallen’s actual life. It looks like he’s living it up. But ultimately, all the partying and repercussions catch up to you, and become more of a burden than anything. The production is all wrong with this song though. “Living The Dream” sounds like a post Yacht-rock era pre grunge alt-pop track your mom would still listen to.

Then when Morgan Wallen returns your sweet Caroline home at 12:08 a.m. with her hair all disheveled like it’s been catching static cling in a back seat, he pulls out the cool and country “Quittin’ Time,” co-written by Eric Church, Josh Thompson, and Luke Laird to close out Disc 2. And you forgive him, even though you probably shouldn’t. Because Morgan Wallen knows just what to do and when to do it to get back in your good graces.

It is important that we draw distinctions between the contributors to mainstream country music as opposed to just lump it all together and burn it down. Morgan Wallen is not Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt. He’s not the worst mainstream country has to offer, and neither is Dangerous. It’s country in large swaths. It’s pretty good in others. But you also have to look through the marketing if you’re to give an honest assessment. He’s a Bro-Country act. That’s what Morgan Wallen is. He’s just one of the better ones.

Morgan Wallen is what you think he is. He’s good for some country music guilty pleasures, but he’s not especially good. And who knows, maybe some day after he’s done sowing his wild oats and making bad Bro-Country songs and worse life decisions, he’ll develop into something more worthy of the strange critical acclaim he’s been receiving, and be a worthy suitor for your sister, daughter, or listening rotation. Maybe instead of just including a Jason Isbell song on a 30-song record, he’ll release one as a single.

But despite the promise he shows on Dangerous, Morgan Wallen also makes it unmistakably clear that he has a ways to go to be the guy you want him to be, as opposed to the guy he really is.

5/10

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