Rating: IDGAF/10. Give this guy a quarter and tell him to call someone who cares.
…You’re still here? Fine, I guess we can talk more about this.
At this point, you all know how I feel about Morgan Wallen: He’s a talentless hack grifting off of the Nashville beer/truck meta and the genre’s Ex-Boyfriend trend, a man with zero redeeming qualities and some serious baggage (in the two years since this happened, not only has he suffered no major repercussions for the incident, but his star seems to have risen because of it). Unfortunately, he’s also arguably the genre’s biggest star at the moment, with his recent singles not only topping the country charts, but routinely cracking the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 as well. He’s returned to the radio now with “One Thing At A Time,” officially the fourth single from his One Thing At A Time album (“Last Night” peaked on #3 on the Hot 100, but didn’t crack the Top 40 on the country airplay chart), and honestly, when put next to tracks like “You Proof” and “Wasted On You,” the man is also turning into a serial whiner, and this retreaded blather might be the worst of his whimperings.
There are two things that attempt to distinguish this track from its predecessors, and the first of these is the slick 80s pop guitar that headlines an arrangement that is otherwise the same soundalike guitar-and-drum mix we get from everyone these days. The surprise addition (along with an atypical burst of tempo) certainly helps the song stand out on the airwaves, giving the song a weirdly retro vibe and an espresso shot of energy…but it establishes an atmosphere that’s the complete opposite of what the song wants, turning in into a sugar-rush dance track and sapping it of any actual emotion or feeling. Despite the regular minor chords, the overall tone here is bright and positive, which doesn’t exactly befit a man supposedly struggling with multiple addictions. It cheapens the whole message of the song, and actively encourages the audience to ignore it in favor of empty sonic calories, which just isn’t a good look for anyone. Frankly, there are far better uptempo tracks with actual synergy out there to listen to (“Sounds Like Something I’d Do,” anyone?), so why anyone would give this the time of day is beyond me.
As far as Wallen goes, he’s back to his old meatheaded dudebro self on this track, and he’s as unsympathetic and unlikable a character as ever. This isn’t a guy who’s broken up about a failed relationship—in fact, thanks to Wallen’s smug, self-satisfied delivery, the narrator actually sounds pleased with what has transpired, as if the breakup has given him an excuse to indulge in bad behavior. You don’t get the sense that he cares all that much about the other person, but he must at least kinda-sorta want to be with them, judging by the way he tries to leverage his vices to bring his partner back (“hey, if you really want me to clean up my act, then you’d better stick around”). The problem is that his performance sounds so sleazy and manipulative that he doesn’t come across as the least bit sincere or trustworthy, and you just know he’s going to keep right on behaving badly no matter who’s around him (which is probably why the relationship crumbled in the first place). It’s the sort of attitude that immediately turns the audience against him, and by the end you’re rooting for the other person to come back just so they can kick the speaker squarely in the groin. When the listener’s first thought upon hearing this drivel is “Man, even Dustin Lynch would do a better job on this track,” you know you’re in trouble.
Of course, part of the reason Wallen acts so badly here is because the writing gives him far too much leeway to do so. The second thing that tries to distinguish this track from all the other lost-love songs on the radio is how it lumps the relationship in with the narrator’s other addictions (drinking, smoking, etc.), and if someone wants them to clean up their act, too bad, because “I’m only quitting one thing at a time.” I often talk about how songs have something that an artist can latch on to to elevate it, but in this case the opposite is true: It leaves way too many openings for Wallen to drag the song down, and he obliges without a second thought. I really hate the second verse, where the narrator tries to exploit whatever feelings the other person still has by listing all the harder items he could lean into (chewing tobacco, amphetamine pills, etc.) and declaring that either the other person sticks around or the narrator falls deeper down the rabbit hole of uncontrolled substances, or as they put it in the first verse, “Weigh out all your options and take your pick.” (There’s an indication that the partner still has some sort of feelings for their ex, but given all the narrator’s whining about how it’s so hard to change their ways, I find it hard to believe there’s any love left between these two at all. If the love is truly real, you’ll find a way.) It’s a disgusting and manipulative strategy, and Wallen is all too happy to play the role to the hilt. Beyond that, all of my usual complaints apply: The level of detail’s a bit low, the hook is “meh” at best, and while we’re at least not bouncing around in a truck on a dirt road at midnight, when you lean into the devil-may-care, self-medicate-yourself-to-death angle this hard, I think I’d rather put up with the clichés. It’s as poorly-conceived an idea as you can imagine, and all four writers need to spend the next year in timeout so they can think about what they’ve done.
I know it’s only March, but “One Thing At A Time” is already a strong contender for the worst song I’ll hear in 2023. The production sets the wrong mood and tries to make the song something it’s not, the writing is equal parts controlling, unrepentant, and just plain slimy, and while I didn’t need another reason to dislike Morgan Wallen, it seems I’ve got one after hearing his arrogant, infuriating performance that actively makes the song worse. At this point I have no idea if redemption is even possible for Wallen, but a good starting point would be to point at this song and tell everyone involved to do the exact opposite of what they did here next time around. At the very least, this joker needs to learn how to multitask.
The rating’s at the top of the page this time, but if you really need a number, here: 2/10. Now do me a solid and get this trash off my radio.