Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You”

Here’s hoping this is the last time I have to waste on Morgan Wallen.

It’s been over a year now since Wallen got caught throwing around the N-word, and despite spending six months in timeout for his actions, he’s somehow become even more successful than before, to the point where Rolling Stone posited that “the controversy actually helped Wallen’s career.” We can argue over whether or not Wallen has paid enough of a price for his actions until the end of time (for my money, the answer is an easy “No”), but throughout the whole ordeal, one thing hasn’t changed: Wallen remains one of the least-interesting artists in Nashville, and I still can’t figure out what people see or hear in him. This trend continues on his latest single “Wasted On You,” in which he whines about a failed relationship and bemoans everything he wasted on it despite the fact that he was the reason it all went to pieces. It’s a confusing mess of a track that fails to endear Wallen to the listener, and makes me wonder why we bother to give this guy any airtime at all.

When dealing with an artist as polarizing as Wallen, you have to make sure that everything you put around him is on point so as to maximize your potential audience appeal. Instead, however, we get an uninspired guitar-and-drum mix that stands out even amongst other uninspired guitar-and-drum mixes for how bad it sounds. The main issue here is this kit has less synergy than the Sloshing Machine: It starts with an acoustic guitar stolen from Garth Brooks’s “Friends In Low Places” (an intriguing choice), pairs it with an electric guitar that’s sounds so synthetic it could be a Garageband instrument (not a great choice), and then drops in a heavy drum machine beat that feels completely out-of-place (really bad choice). The rare vi-IV-I-V chord progression helps to catch the listener’s ear, and there’s a slightly-spacious feel to the guitars, but he slower tempo and lifeless beat drain all the life from the song, causing it to bog down under its own weight and making it a real chore to listen to. The overall vibe is suitably dark and melancholy, but it’s awful too sterile and unfeeling to offer any support to the subject matter (although with writing this unfocused and contradictory, it doesn’t get much of an opportunity to support it anyway). The whole thing feels like a halfhearted, half-budgeted effort, and it doesn’t do enough to draw listeners in to the song.

Three years ago, I noted that “Wallen has the incredible ability to make me care less about any topic he chooses to cover,” and nothing has changed after all this time. While I’m not a fan of how he stumbles his way through some of the lyrics (when he says “chevy and prayers in,” it sounds like “Chevy Impreza,” which always confuses me because Imprezas are Subarus), there aren’t any major technical issues in his performance. As always, the problem is Wallen’s (lack of) charisma: The man is completely incapable of drawing anything resembling sympathy or empathy from his audience. Despite explicitly admitting that he was the one to blame for the relationship falling apart, there’s a palpable sense of frustration and hostility to his delivery, as if he’s appalled that the person he’s mistreated would have the nerve to leave him. It’s not a good look for anyone, and Wallen’s past persona as an immature dudebro doesn’t help matters. He comes across as the kind of guy who deserves to have his efforts wasted for what he’s done, and his whiny attitude pushes the audience away and make them feel like he got his just deserts. In other words, this dude is insufferable, unlikable, and deserves to feel some consequences for his actions for a change.

The writing here is more two-faced than a Batman villain It starts with a contrite narrator in the familiar position of trying to drink away the memory of a lost love, and goes so far as to explicitly admit “it’s all my fault, yeah, I dropped the ball…and then the chorus hits, the song takes a hard turn, the narrator begins ranting about all of the wasted time, money, miles, prayers, and “all of these sorries I don’t owe you,” and goes so far as to burn all the things their ex left at the house (as an aside, what’s with all this references to stuff being left behind after a breakup? The leaver used to take everything, now they take nothing.) All this lashing out feels pointless and non-sensical, because the narrator has already admitted that they’re the reason all their efforts were wasted in the first place! The story is also badly devoid of detail: If the narrator had a real reason to be upset, we don’t hear it, and in truth we don’t hear much about the relationship at all, aside from the fact that it’s over. The whole song comes across as the ramblings of a butthurt man-child who’s pouting because he didn’t get his way, and I’ve already filled my quota for garbage like this in this decade, thank you very much.

“Wasted On You” is a failure on every level, with a bunch of ill-fitting pieces tossed in a blender to produce a sour, cringeworthy concoction. The production is lifeless and lazy, the writing is immature and inconsistent, and Morgan Wallen draws more scorn than pity from his audience. At this point, Wallen is who he is (i.e., he’s a limited vocalist who struggles to bring feeling to his songs and win over his audience), and I’m getting tired of putting up with his baloney. At the very least, the Dangerous era needs to end and he needs to get back into the studio and find some better material to record, because time waits for no one, and I don’t want to spend any more of it on drivel like this.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t waste your time with this one.

Song Review: ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops”

Unfortunately for ERNEST, catching the listener’s attention and keeping it are two very different things, and just doing one isn’t enough.

Ernest Smith, known professionally as all-caps ERNEST because of course he is, is a Tennessee native who began his Nashville stint as a country rap artist before signing with Big Loud Records in 2019. His debut album and a few subsequent singles went absolutely nowhere, but he managed to find some success as a songwriter, most notably serving as the Scotty Emerick to Morgan Wallen’s Toby Keith (ERNEST scored eleven co-writes on Wallen’s Dangerous album). Nothing help raise an artist’s Q rating and recoups a label’s investment like a little coattail-riding, so ERNEST teamed up with the scandal-plagued-but-album-moving Wallen for his latest single “Flower Shops.” The ploy, however, isn’t executed well enough to seal the deal: There are a few things done right here to make the song stand out, but there’s no follow-up to hold peoples’ attention beyond the initial novelty factor. As far as “debut” singles go, it’s yet another failure from Music City to properly introduce a newer artist to the world and give the audience a reason to stick around.

Most of what the song does right is with its sound, as the production deviates from the guitar-and-drum norm just enough to stand out from the crowd. The guitars and drums are still here, of course, but much like Scotty McCreery’s “Damn Strait,” the song leans into its steel guitar and makes the instrument the defining feature of the mix. The use of 3/4 waltz time is another departure from the genre’s current 4/4 orthodoxy, combining with the steel guitar and slower tempo to give the track a decidedly retro feel and further distinguish it from its peers. The regular minor and slash chords pair with muted instrument tones to give the song an dark, unsettling feel that add to the sense that the audience is surveying the wreckage of a relationship that blew up in the narrator’s face. It’s a solid mixture of the novel and the familiar to draw the listener into the song, and it’s a bit of the shame that the rest of the song can’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Honestly, I think the marketing for this track is based less on introducing ERNEST and more on tricking people into thinking this is a new Wallen single. Wallen is only here for the name recognition: The song is not written as a duet, Wallen brings nothing of value to the performance, and ERNEST comes across as such a Wallen clone that it’s hard to tell which one is singing at times. (ERNEST is a shade less raspy than Wallen and he hasn’t been caught on tape throwing the n-word around yet, but otherwise they’re pretty much the same artist.) For his part, ERNEST doesn’t acquit himself well here: He doesn’t bring enough charisma to the table to come across as particularly sympathetic or likeable, and the way he winds up for a big finish and ends up stumbling through a weak, wavering line tells me he doesn’t have much power or range behind his voice. His tone is a bit too neutral overall to give me the sense that he cares all that much the relationship (although to be fair, the writing gives him zero support in that department). He simply can’t sell the story well enough to make this any more than yet another lost-love song, and the audience finds no reason to care about it as a result.

The lyrics here find the narrator searching for ways forward in the wake of a failed relationship, and settling on buying all the flowers they can get their hands on to try to get back in their ex’s good graces. Setting aside the weakness of the hook (“a bad day for love, but a good day for flower shops”? Come on, you can do better than that), the song fails to paint the narrator as a changed man, and instead highlights all the reason why the relationship fell apart in the first place. The core issue seems to be that “this bender’s been bending” and “my baby’s had all she can take,” suggesting that it’s completely the narrator’s fault that things went south, but instead of resolving to change, the narrator dives straight into another bender (“I took some pills,” “I took up drinking”) and decides that his best chance of making things right is “one million [flowers] to get you.” If the problems have been going on for as long as it sounds, a massive floral arrangement isn’t going to undo the damage—instead, how about you clean up, get sober, and start acting like someone who’s worth being in a relationship in? There are a few decent turns of phrase here (notably the way the “took” and “gone” lines are chained together in the second verse), but it’s not enough to cover up the inherent issues with the narrator’s perspective.

I’d like to like “Flower Shops,” but there’s just not enough here to keep me listening. The producer does some nice things with the sound and clears the admittedly-low bar of background noise that the rest of the genre aspires to, but neither the lyrics nor ERNEST and Morgan Wallen can stand up to the scrutiny that this invites, and you’ve pretty much forgotten the song a few minutes after it’s finished. What’s especially galling to me is the way ERNEST is reduced to being nothing but a Wallen understudy, so much so that the average listener won’t even realize that there are two singers here! The production may stand out, but the song’s ultimate goal is to blend in, and what’s the point of pushing ERNEST if the song is just an off-brand Wallen single? In the end, Scotty Emerick never established himself as an artist, and I fear that ERNEST is headed for the same fate.

Rating: 5/10. There are better ways to spend your time.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots”

So we’re really going here, are we? Fine, let’s get this over with.

Back in February, Morgan Wallen was caught on video shouting “profanities and [a] racial epithet” outside his home in Nashville. Such behavior is inexcusable no matter when it happens, but in the wake of a year in which high-profile murders of Black individuals such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor had heightened the nation’s awareness of the racial inequity that persists in American society, the incident felt especially galling. At the time the reaction was swift: Wallen’s recording contract was suspended, he was booted off the radio, and he was declared ineligible for the ACM and CMA awards for that year (however, the CMAs let him remain eligible in some categories “so as not to limit opportunity for other credited collaborators.” The incident sparked a broader conversation about country music’s troubled history with artists of color, and for a moment it seemed like the incident would serve as a catalyst for long-overdue change within the industry.

Six months later, the disheartening truth is that nothing has actually changed within country music. The genre remains as exclusionary as it’s ever been: Female artists still struggle to find radio traction, Kane Brown remains the only artist of color who can find consistent airplay (Jimmie Allen‘s track record is mixed at best, and Darius Rucker appears to be getting cycled off the airwaves), and Brothers Osborne has had zero momentum ever since TJ Osborne publicly announced that he was gay. Wallen, on the other hand, saw a sustained surge in the sales of his Dangerous album, so much so that the album is currently the best-selling album of the year across all genres by a massive margin. In the end, Wallen’s airplay ban didn’t even last a full album cycle, as “Sand In My Boots” was officially shipped to radio last week as the third single from Dangerous.

It’s impossible to look inside someone’s heart and know if they’ve truly changed their ways and become a better person, but personally I think it’s too soon for Wallen to be back on mainstream radio. He didn’t exactly come across as a changed man in his GMA interview with Michael Strahan, and he’s yet to follow through on some of his earlier promises, such as an agreement to meet with the NAACP (which still hasn’t happened as of August 21st). It seems like he’s trying to return to an old normal instead of helping to create a new one, and just wants listeners to forget about his transgressions. For me, however, Wallen is still the guy who felt comfortable dropping a racial slur at full volume on a Nashville street and admitted five months later that “I haven’t really sat and thought about that,” when asked if country music had a race problem, and much like Lady A’s name controversy when talking about “Like A Lady,” it’s impossible to look past that.

So where does that leave us with “Sand In My Boots”? The song is a lament from the narrator about a romance that could have been but never was, and to the producer’s credit, the production does it job by setting the mood and emphasizing the melacholy hindsight of the whole ordeal. The song is primarily driven by a piano (serious song alert!), supported by some minimal guitar and organ work and light-touch production, and absolutely marinated in reverb effects to give the mix a more-spacious feel. While the song has few minor chords and the instrument tones are mostly neutral, the prominence of the piano and the general simplicity of the riffs give the track some real weight and emphasize the significance of the moment in the narrator’s mind. For the most part, the volume levels are kept low to keep the focus on the story rather than the sound, which helps get the narrator’s point across. It’s a solid effort that does its best to keep the song on message, and it’s a bit of a shame that everything else around it drags it down.

I’m a bit ambivalent on the writing here, as it seems to contradict itself when talking about the narrator’s night with their prospective partner. While it’s essentially the story of a failed attempt to pick someone up, I like the fact that it’s framed as an actual story, walking us through the various scenes from the initial meeting through the narrator’s ride home alone the following day. What I don’t like, however, is the way the other person is portrayed in the most unflattering way possible, as they come across as ignorant and insensitive when they “tried talkin’ with my accent” (don’t ever do that to someone you just met; it makes you sound like a jerk) and “said ‘Don’t cowboys drink whiskey?'” (they might as well have asked where the narrator’s horse was). In all honesty, the narrator doesn’t come off sounding great either: They give off this pretentious, holier-than-thou vibe when they say they come from “somewhere you never been to” and declaring that “you’ve never seen stars like the ones back home.” The song really tries to frame the narrator as a sympathetic/tragic figure, and lines like these leave a bad taste in the listener’s mouth regarding both parties. It’s also worth noting that whatever chemistry is present is only in the narrator’s mind, as the other person rejects their offer to meet the next day (you can’t be stood up if the other person never agreed to the meeting in the first place). In the end, the story fails to convince the listener that it’s worth paying attention to, so no one cares if the pair leaves the scene together or not.

Finally we have Wallen himself, and frankly it’s just not time for him to return to the radio just yet. I was never a fan of him as a vocalist to begin with, and while the song doesn’t test him technically (there are no range or flow issues to speak of), I simply can’t hear him without thinking about his antics last winter. This leads to some serious negative synergy with the lyrics: I just said the other person sounded “ignorant and insensitive,” but Wallen’s behavior makes the narrator come across as more than a little hypocritical in their judgment. Wallen does a decent job infusing the song with the required sadness and disappointment, but when you think about how little consequence he’s suffered for his actions this year, you can’t help but think he deserves to feel some pain and disappointment, even if it’s only in a fictional story. At this point, Wallen remains a toxic presence, and the song (which certainly has a few of its own flaws) gets dragged down through no fault of its own.

I don’t know where Morgan Wallen goes from here, but I know where country music should go from here: Rather than give airtime to “Sand In My Boots” and letting an artist get away with carelessly tossing around damaging words with little consequence, this genre needs to look in the mirror and declare “We can do better.” We can carve out room for outstanding artists that don’t come from Nashville’s faceless young white male assembly line, and give some more spotlight (and spins) to acts like Chapel Hart (whose new album just came out) and Mickey Guyton (whose album is finally coming out next month). There’s a path to a brighter, more inclusive future in country music, and it starts by broadening our horizons and bringing in people of all genders, races, and identities to tell their story. There’s a place for Wallen in this future too, but he’s going to have to do a lot more to earn it.

Rating: 5/10. It’s not worth your time.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “7 Summers”

This is not a great song for Morgan Wallen, but at least it’s a decent song from Morgan Wallen.

For the life of me, I do not understand Wallen’s appeal at all. However, it’s undeniable these days that Wallen has appeal, and lots of it, as evidenced by the unexpected drop several weeks ago of a new single “7 Summers.” The track was initially released to the public as a brief Instagram demo, and generated so much buzz on social media that Wallen and Big Loud Records were compelled to release the track to mainstream radio to see how it fared. It was a bold move considering Wallen is already pushing “More Than My Hometown” as an official single, but I’ll give credit to the fans on this one: This situation is more “Hole In The Bottle” than “Champagne Night.” While I’m not sure the song is a stellar fit for Wallen, it’s still an upgrade over the irritating “More Than My Hometown,” and might be the first single from Wallen that actually sticks in my head for longer than three seconds.

The real star of this track is the production, which has a retro vibe that’s surprisingly smooth and relaxed. The electric guitar that opens the track is slick but restrained, blending well with the acoustic axe that carries the melody. The background keyboard has a similar low-key feel, and the drums are both real and subdued. Unless the “indistinguishable wall of noise” heard in “More Than My Hometown,” the instruments feel a bit more distinct and separate here (there’s lot more texture to their sound as well), and the mix’s decent groove and chill atmosphere makes up for the track’s lack of energy (even the barely-noticeable guitar solo works in this context—this is a wind-down track, not a wind-up one). The tone stakes out a nondescript middle ground between the highs of the relationship and the bittersweet feel of the memory, and does a decent job supporting the writing. It’s not a Midland throwback mix, but for a cheaper, catchy replica of that sound, you could certainly do a lot worse.

Unfortunately, I’m still not that impressed with Wallen as a singer, and feel like he’s just not the right person to sing this song (he hasn’t gone through the redemption arc that Thomas Rhett or Old Dominion have, although this could be the start of that process). For one thing, his voice is fairly rough and gravelly, which clashes a bit with the smooth finish of the production. (His technical skills are otherwise tolerable: He handles the range and flow demands without a problem, although his enunciation is still a problem during the faster lyrical sections.) The bigger issue is with Wallen as a narrator: I just don’t find him that believable as a mature, reflective speaker that can appreciate a relationship beyond the alcohol and physical attraction. He might care about his long-lost summer fling, but he doesn’t do a great job convincing the audience to care along with him (especially when it’s this far in the past). Wallen just isn’t ready to deliver a song like this right now, but the fact that he avoids driving this one completely into the ground makes me think he might get to that point eventually…maybe.

Of course, part of Wallen’s believability problem is that he gets handicapped by less-than-stellar writing for the second song in a row. I’m generally not impressed with backward-looking tracks like this (it’s been “7 summers” since this whole thing ended, get over it already), but despite all this time passing, we don’t get much of an indication that the narrator has matured since then. They’re still dropping slang like “sipping on a sixer,” still personally offended by the attitude of the other person’s father, and of course, still the same “go drinkin’, same friends on Friday” person they always were. (The “bought a few acres” line would help matters…if it weren’t breezed through so quickly that you have to look up the lyrics to know what the narrator’s saying.) The constant musing about whether the other person ever thinks about the relationship just reinforces this perception: It comes across as a tad whiny, and seems to say more about how far the narrator hasn’t come than anything else. This dude is just stuck in the past dreaming about a relationship that wasn’t much more than rivers and Southern Comfort to begin with, and it’s not a terribly endearing look.

I would put “7 Summers” in the same category as Rhett’s “Beer Can’t Fix”: It’s not a great song, but if you had to listen to a song like this, it’s probably the one you’d pick. The production goes a long way in setting the mood and drawing in listeners, even if the writing is poorly framed and Morgan Wallen himself doesn’t provide a ton of vocal support. While I still don’t think it justifies all the hype Wallen is getting right now, I’ll concede it’s his best release to date, and it might be the first step towards convincing me his presence in the genre is worthwhile. However, I’d like to see more progress from him before I reserve a seat on his bandwagon, and only time will tell if he can build on this.

Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins to see what you think.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “More Than My Hometown”

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.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “Chasin’ You”

I have to admit, no one can take a topic and make it sound as boring as possible quite like Morgan Wallen.

I’m going to level with you: I still have absolutely no idea what people see or hear in Wallen. String Thirty-Five has a thorough analysis of how Wallen drives engagement through social media, but how or why his music connects with listeners in the first place remains an open question. His last single “Whiskey Glasses” was a lifeless, whiny lament that nonetheless hit #1 on Billboard’s airplay chart and cracked the Top 20 on the Hot 100, and much like “Up Down” (which remains the most-viewed review in the blog’s history), my “Whiskey Glasses” review is already at #4 on my all-time list. (For what it’s worth, Luke Combs holds both the #2 and #3 slots. …Wait, what’s Jake Owen doing at #5?!) Now, Wallen is back with “Chasin’ You,” the fourth single from his If I Know Me album, and it’s the same old story: Although it’s a more-measured and more-active take on life after love, it’s no more compelling or memorable than anything else he’s released.

The production here is a bit too restrained and paint-by-numbers for its own good, and only really succeeds in lulling the listener to sleep. The drums may be real and the guitars may sound more like amped-up acoustic axes instead of electric ones (there’s a keyboard/organ floating around in the background as well), but there’s absolutely zero atmosphere established or energy created. The quiet, simplistic arrangement (not even the guitar solo moves the needle) and the slower tempo makes this thing plod even worse than “Whiskey Glasses,” and while the frequent minor chords and darker instrument tones reflect the narrator’s melancholy and suit the writing well, they make the song feel less catchy and captivating, and only make the audience think about all the other songs they’d rather be listening to. Wallen’s had some surprising success thus far, but he’s really pushing his luck with this snorefest.

Similarly, as a vocalist Wallen has the incredible ability to make me care less about any topic he chooses to cover. His range and flow are as tolerable and uninteresting as they’ve ever been, but it’s his utter lack of charisma that continues to trip him up. The good news is that he doesn’t sound nearly as whiny or petulant as he did on “Whiskey Glasses,” but while I don’t actively dislike the narrator this time around, I don’t find them to be believable or sympathetic either. The dude kinda-sorta feels bad about losing his partner way back when, but Wallen’s delivery is so limp and weak that it obscures his true feelings on the matter (is this just a nostalgic reflection, or is this breakup still bothering him?), and certainly doesn’t convince the audience to share in his feelings. (Give this to any other singer in the genre, and it would probably sound better than it does here.) Frankly, Wallen doesn’t make me care one iota about the narrator’s pain, and I just wish he’d stop talking about it.

The story here falls somewhere between Eric Church’s “Round Here Buzz” and Combs’s “She Got The Best Of Me”: The narrator lost a partner who had big dreams of a better life in the big city, and has been chasing…well, to be honest I’m not exactly sure what this guy is chasing. Is it the women herself, or is it the young-love thrill the pair captured way back when? He namechecks the latter (“chasing that freedom, chasing that feeling”) and mentions that he’s sleeping with lots of different people in the women’s absence, but the song itself seems sort of pointless if it’s not the former (he seems to be using it to reach out to his old flame specifically). On the plus side, I often ding narrators for sitting back and whining about problems instead of going out and trying to solve them, so this person deserves a little credit for at least going “as far as get Guitar Town” and trying to use his music to continue the search. Beyond that, however, this is the “same old lost-love story” with the same old sepia-colored images and activities and a groan-inducing”chasin’ you” hook that goes exactly where you expect it to, and when you combine it with a bland sound and Wallen’s off-putting delivery, you get a 3:25 song that overstays its welcome by at least three minutes.

“Chasin’ You” is nothing more than unappetizing radio filler, and while that actually constitutes an improvement for Morgan Wallen, it’s not enough to make this song worth listening to. With boring, generic production, a boring, generic story, and flaccid vocals that can only dream of being boring and generic, I can only recommend this track as a non-habit-forming sleep aid. Social media may be the new path to stardom in country music, but at some point a lack of quality content will catch up to you.

Rating: 5/10. Chase this one off of your playlist.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “Whiskey Glasses”

You won’t need “Whiskey Glasses” to listen to this song, but you’ll want a few cups of coffee to keep you awake.

I’m going to level with you: I have absolutely no idea what people see or hear in Morgan Wallen. For my money, he’s a Tyler Hubbard knock-off who doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and he hasn’t done a great job distinguishing himself from the rest of country radio. However, the rest of the world apparently thinks otherwise: His last single “Up Down,”
a collaboration with Florida Georgia Line, not only became his first No. 1 single on Billboard’s airplay chart, but my (unfavorable) review of the song became this blog’s most-viewed post of all time (and it’s not close). The question now is whether all this buzz is just an FGL-fueled sugar rush or a sign that Wallen is actually an artist on the rise. Based on his latest single “Whiskey Glasses,” the third from his If I Know Me album, it looks to be the latter: The track is a generic, lifeless, woe-is-me-she’s-gone song that feels way more shallow than it should.

The production opens innocently enough, with the same old electric guitars and drums that everybody else is using. Halfway through the first chorus, however, this pulsing bass-like noise starts rumbling, and while it slowly fades into the background as the chorus arrives, it’s annoying and distracting enough that the producer might as well have stuck a fire alarm into the mix. The tone is suitably dark for the topic,but it doesn’t quite reach the level of sadness it needs to (to be honest, much of this is Wallen’s fault). The tempo is stuck in this weird place where it’s too fast to generate emotional energy but too slow to generate kinetic energy, and song just plods along lethargically as a result. There’s nothing here that really draws the listener in (in fact, that weird bass pulse actively drives them away), and in the end the only reason you start tapping your feet is because you’re impatiently waiting for the song to finish.

If there’s one thing “Whiskey Glasses” does, it demonstrates that personal, emotional songs are not Wallen’s forte. On a technical level, he’s a tolerable singer with both the range and flow to meet the song’s demands. In terms of charisma, it’s a different story: Forget making the audience feel the narrator’s pain, Wallen fails to even make me feel bad for the guy. His delivery lacks passion and sounds more matter-of-fact than anything else, and makes me question whether the dude has a pulse, let alone actual emotions. (I wouldn’t go as far as to say the performance was mailed-in, but it’s not far above that.) In the hands of a more earnest performer, there might have been some hope for this song, but Wallen just doesn’t have the chops to carry the mail here.

Part of Wallen’s problem here is that the lyrics don’t give him a heck of a lot to work with. Ostensibly the song is a lament over a lost love, with the narrator describing just how much alcohol he’ll need to mask the pain he (supposedly) feels. The problem is…well, there are a lot of them:

  • Generic cry-in-my-beer songs have around a long time (consider that Hank Williams Sr.’s “Tear In My Beer” was written almost seventy years ago), and this song does little to distinguish itself from the pack. You can see where the writers tried to insert some cleverness via its multiple interpretations of phrases (such as the “whiskey glasses” hook), but it’s completely predictable and just makes the listener roll their eyes. (Seriously, I called the drink/eyewear use of the title before I’d even heard the song.)
  • The narrator’s concerns feel beyond superficial to me. The guy doesn’t bemoan the fact that he’s lost his soulmate or best friend (heck, the word “love” doesn’t appear in the song at all), but instead whines about how he can’t sing karaoke anymore and that “she’s probably making out on the couch right now with someone new.” It makes you wonder how much of a “relationship” this relationship this really was, and it certainly doesn’t make you sympathetic to the singer’s lament.
  • There’s a distinct lack of self-reflection here, which is especially glaring given the above bullet. The narrator offers no reasons for why the woman decided to leave (he doesn’t even bother to say “I don’t know why she left”), even when there seems to be an obvious reason staring him in the face (“How serious was this relationship? Did you ever talk to her about that?”). Instead, the narrator decides to drink himself numb, treating his symptoms without addressing the real problem.
  • Oh yeah, and the bridge is the most annoying, unnecessarily-repetitive thing you can imagine:

    Line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up
    Knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back
    Fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up
    ‘Cause if she ain’t ever coming back
    Line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up, line ’em up
    Knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back, knock ’em back
    Fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up, fill ’em up
    ‘Cause if she ain’t ever coming back

    Please stop, my ears are starting to bleed.

Add it all up, and you’re left with a whiny, clueless narrator and an audience who is completely uninterested in hearing his sob story.

In the end, “Whiskey Glasses” is a song about nothing: A love song without love, a sad song without sadness, and an emotional roller coaster delivered as flatly as humanly possible. Neither Morgan Wallen nor the producers nor the writers make a compelling argument for why people should pay attention to this song, and the things that do stand out seem to make the song worse instead of better. At some point, you’ve got to do more than drive blog traffic to hang around in country music, because otherwise you’re just wasting people’s time.

Rating: 4/10. Don’t bother with this one.

Song Review: Morgan Wallen ft. Florida Georgia Line, “Up Down”

“Up Down” is a fitting title for this song, because that what’s my eyelids do as I fight to stay awake while listening to it.

Back when I reviewed Morgan Wallen’s debut single “The Way I Talk,” I labeled him an “FGL knockoff” that needed to a) differentiate himself from other artists, and b) find more interesting material to sing about. Instead, Wallen went in basically the worst direction he could have: He brought Florida Georgia Line in as a featured artist (hammering home just how unoriginal Wallen’s sound is), and he chose “Up Down,” a generic Bro-Country track devoid of any reasons for a listener to pay attention, as his next single. The result is as boring and forgettable is you’d expect.

The production checks most of the usual Bro boxes: A methodical tempo, a swampy acoustic guitar on the verses, a hard-rocking electric guitar on the choruses, a Skynyrd-esque electric axe for flavor on the breaks, a token banjo plodding along in the background, and a prominent, hard-driving drum set keeping time. (The only surprise is that there don’t seem to be any drum machines or any other synthetic elements floating around here.) Basically, this thing sounds like every other Bro-Country song you’ve ever heard, from the party-hardy vibe to the rehashed instrumentation, and it does nothing to stand out from the crowd. Bro-Country went out of style a while ago, and all this song does is remind me why it happened.

In a world without Florida Georgia Line, Wallen might be able to pass himself off as a credible vocalist, as my description of him as “a decent singer with some decent range and decent flow” from my last review still stands. FGL does exist, however, and while it’s one thing for Wallen to sound similar to Tyler Hubbard, it’s another thing entirely for him to share the mic with Hubbard and demonstrate this fact. Seriously, the best way to tell whether Wallen or Hubbard is singing is to listen for Brian Kelley’s harmony on Hubbard’s lines. (Speaking of harmony, FGL’s low harmony on the choruses is completely overpowered by Wallen’s melody, to the point where it’s barely noticeable.) Worse still, the minute differences between Wallen and Hubbard all break in Hubbard’s favor, as Wallen sounds rougher and more washed-out in comparison (especially in his upper range). If you’re getting shown up by another artist on your own darn song, maybe they weren’t a great choice to include in the first place.

The writing, much like the production, is a collection of basic Bro tropes tossed into a blender: Drinking, driving, partying in unusual locations, leering at women, name-dropping other songs, etc. (That “Free Bird five minutes deep” really confused me for a while. I heard “Free Bird, Five Minutes…” and thought there was a Lorrie Morgan reference there.) The only good thing I can say about the lyrics is that the writers found some kinda-sorta interesting ways to tie in the “up down” phrase (fishing bobbers, sunburns, etc.)—otherwise, there’s nothing here you haven’t heard a hundred times before (aside from that “BFE” acronym drop, which I could have lived without.) It’s a lazy, uninspired piece that plows the same barren ground as everyone else.

Overall, “Up Down” is a forgettable track that missed its window of opportunity by at least five years. In a world where Bro-Country has come and gone and even Florida Georgia Line is struggling to stay relevant (after 13 consecutive Top 3 hits, “Smooth” hit a roadblock at #14), being an off-brand FGL soundalike like Morgan Wallen and leaning on boilerplate production and writing is not a recipe for success. There’s a reason the Bro-Country trend faded, and Wallen gives us no good reason to revisit it.

Rating: 4/10. You’ve already heard this song. Why listen to it again?

Song Review: Morgan Wallen, “The Way I Talk”

Do you ever wonder what would have happened if Tyler Hubbard had embarked on a solo career instead of teaming up with Brian Kelley and forming Florida-Georgia Line? If Morgan Wallen is any indication, the result would have been kind of boring.

Wallen is a Voice alumnus whose bio states that “the last song he performed during his run, a cover of Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay,” helped him steer him toward his creative destiny.” Truer words were never spoken: Nearly everything out Wallen’s debut single “The Way I Talk,” from the production to the vocals, just screams “FGL knockoff.” The one exception, however, is where FGL was in-your-face and polarizing, Wallen is more inoffensive and…well, bland.

FGL’s longtime producer Joey Moi also produced this single, and it shows: The production here is basically a slightly-slower version of “Cruise,” right down to the guitar tones and the flow of the beat. The guitar riffs are simpler here, and the energy level is toned down to better fit the song’s subject matter, but the result is that the song isn’t the earworm that “Cruise” was, and it gives off (for lack of a better term) a tired, almost sleepy vibe, which is not a good thing for a debut single to do.

Vocally, Wallen is a decent singer with some decent range and decent flow, but the only thing that stands out about him is that he sounds like a carbon copy of FGL’s Hubbard. While FGL’s path to success is certainly one worth following, in this case it keeps Wallen from developing his own identity as a vocalist. Unlike Hubbard, however, Wallen’s delivery is restrained to the point of feeling halfhearted, which keeps him from landing his punches and making the song stick in the listener’s mind. You won’t cringe when you hear Wallen sing (unlike you don’t like Hubbard), but you probably won’t remember him when he’s done either.

As for the lyrics…honestly, the song doesn’t seem to have a lot to say. It’s a thinly-veiled attempt to glorify the rural/”country” way of life (note the references to beer, college football, and not swearing in front of your elders, as well as the line “I just live the way I talk”) through the prism of the singer’s accent, but the images are so generic and the attitude is so restrained that it doesn’t leave any impression at all on the listener. Combine this with Wallen’s tepid delivery and Moi’s tired-sounding production, and you’re left with a debut that’s more sleep aid than single.

Overall, “The Way I Talk” is a snoozefest of a song that blatantly attempts to copy more-successful artists without demonstrating Wallen’s own strengths as a singer, which is about as poor a choice for a debut single as you can make. I have no problem with the way Wallen talks, but I wish he’d find something more unique and interesting to talk about.

Rating: 5/10. You won’t notice if you hear it, and you won’t miss anything if you don’t.