Our lives are often defined by the choices we make…and Morgan Wallen choose poorly on all counts.
For the life of me, I do not understand Wallen’s appeal at all. He’s an unremarkable product of Nashville’s faceless young male singer assembly line, one known more for his hairstyle than for his music, and said music has thus far been mediocre at best and obnoxious at worst (he hasn’t earned anything higher than a 5/10 from this outlet). Yet Wallen is now riding a three-song No. 1 streak on Billboard’s airplay chart, the last two of which cracked the Top 20 on the Hot 100 (“Whiskey Glasses,” “Chasin’ You”). Naturally, Wallen and Big Loud Records don’t want to kill their golden goose, and so as the door closes on the If I Know Me era, Wallen is bringing out “More Than My Hometown,” the leadoff single for his currently-untitled sophomore album. Just like its predecessors, the song is uninteresting and even irritating at points, which likely means it will become a monster hit and leave me pulling out what’s left of my hair.
The production here is pretty much the same guitar-and-drum mix everybody leans on these days, except with a bunch of synth tones marinated in echo effects layered on top of the arrangement. The intent was likely to give the mix a more-spacious feel, but instead it waters down all the other instruments and make them all bleed together into an indistinguishable wall of noise. (The fact that the vocals are significantly louder in the mix helps cover this up, but only partially.) The drums are the only instrument that breaks through the fog and drives the song forward, but there still isn’t a whole lot of energy here, and the steadfast sameness of the volume and arrangement as the song progresses keeps it from building any momentum either. The result is that the mix does a poor job supporting the writing and makes the song more boring instead of more meaningful, and the listener is ready to skip to the next track before this thing is even halfway through.
The best thing I can about Wallen is that he continues to move out of Tyler Hubbard’s shadow vocally, setting himself apart by bringing a deeper and more-gravelly sound to his performance without falling into Kip Moore‘s “aggravatingly raspy” territory. His flow and range are also tolerable here, although his poor enunciation can make it hard to tell what he’s saying when he’s rushing through a line. The issue, as always, is Wallen’s (lack of) charisma: While the writing deserves a fair chunk of the blame here (we’ll get to that), his dispassionate reading of the chorus makes the audience question how much he actually loved the other person in the first place. The way he just kind of drops his choice in the other person’s lap at the end of the chorus makes him come across as unsympathetic and cold (there are much better ways of delivering this message, dude). He accentuates the song’s problems instead of masking them, and leaves the audience mostly underwhelmed.
Of course, it’s hard to pin all the blame on Wallen given the awful writing he has to work with (then again, he’s also a co-writer here, so he’s on the hook for this drivel regardless). Ostensibly, the song is the narrator explaining why they can’t follow their significant other as they chase their dreams, but their reasoning is framed in the worst and least-sympathetic way possible. The chorus in particular is a complete disaster: It’s a mostly a laundry list of all the generic country tropes (fishing, drinking, religion, etc.) Wallen places his partner above…and then he explicitly declares that he’s letting her go because he “can’t love you more than my hometown.” Not only does it make the entire rest of the chorus ring hollow, but the message is delivered in the least tactful way possible (telling the other person you value your hometown over them feels like a slap in the face to me; you couldn’t have found a nicer way to deliver this news?). The narrator also declines to offer any support for their soon-to-be ex-partner (the best they can do is say “I don’t blame you” for going), and then has the gall to say “hang onto these words ’til them avenues help you forget ’em.” What words, exactly? The ones in which you picked your stupid hometown over her? Are you trying to give her motivation by doubting her? The rest of the song is hit-or-miss, as every decent turn of phrase (“my heart’s stuck in these streets like the train tracks”) is followed up with a nonsensical one (what the heck is a “map dot shame” supposed to be?). On other words, the song makes the listener actively root against the narrator, and needs a complete rewrite to make it even remotely listenable.
“More Than My Hometown” is a failure on every level: The writing is cold and cookie-cutter, the production adds nothing to the song and barely justifies its own existence, and and Morgan Wallen comes off sounding like an uncaring jerk by breaking the news of his decision with all the emotion of someone reading a grocery list. It’s a step backwards even from “Chasin’ You,” and does not even rise to the level of background noise on the airwaves. With all the great music we’ve heard this year (especially from female artists), wasting precious time on songs like this just doesn’t make sense.
Rating: 4/10. Skip it.