Ascendant country star Morgan Wallen has an awfully mellifluous voice for an agent of total chaos. This is the guy who blew his musical-guest spot on Saturday Night Live in October after biffing COVID quarantine protocols. (He was carousing and smooching and whatnot in Tuscaloosa after Alabama whomped Texas A&M; the TikTok where he murmurs a few bars of his breezy hit “7 Summers” amid a swarm of recording cellphones is particularly sweet.) This is the guy who nonetheless mellifluously crooned “7 Summers” right there on SNL in December, when the show quite graciously gave him a do-over. (He also woodenly spoofed himself in a skit about all that carousing that ended with him breaking into song to thank Lorne Michaels and Co. “for giving this poor Southern boy a second Yankee chance.”) Lookit how resplendently the purple neon light of the giant W behind him shines off his mullet.
Chaos. Soothing, swooning, soft-rock and soft-focus chaos, the sinking summer sun the exact color of your ninth amaretto sour. Wallen’s second album, the 30-track (?!) Dangerous: The Double Album, is out Friday, though earlier this week Walmart somehow managed to leak it early; Wallen genially responded by announcing that he’d leak some songs himself on Instagram, observing, “It’s kind of messed up, but I don’t shop at Walmart anyway.” He sounds so calm and soothing even at his saltiest. “I also gave Target two extra songs,” he added. “So if you’re going to buy my album physically, go to Target, baby.”
Chaos. You’d expect a resplendently mulleted, COVID-protocol-biffing, Walmart-dissing young buck with a 32-track (??!!) double album called Dangerous to be a hard-rocking outlaw shitkicker, all roaring guitars and Kid Rock rap verses and whiskey geysers and hella pyro. (Side note: In May, Wallen was arrested outside Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ’N’ Roll Steakhouse in Nashville; “The night is pretty fuzzy,” he later conceded, though he did get a photo with Kid Rock out of it.) But hard-rocking outlaw shitkickers don’t often get to be ascendant country stars these days.
Instead, Nashville, for the past five years or so, has favored the Country Gentleman, sweet and affable and unthreatening, the mild twang of their voices evoking either puppy love or sad-sack heartbreak as each new lighthearted tune demands. Verily, Wallen sounds like a one-man Eagles reunion transpiring over a bong in an SEC dorm room, a peaceful easy feeling incarnate. And Dangerous, despite not sounding dangerous in the slightest, is therefore delightful. Way too much of a good thing is way better than nothing.
Wallen is a 27-year-old native of small-town Sneedville, Tennessee, who in 2014 got kicked off The Voice (in the playoffs, though) after covering bro-country avatars Florida Georgia Line. In 2018, he got his revenge by releasing his debut album, If I Know Me, which hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and kicks off with “Up Down,” a cheerful and PG and uncommonly tolerable collab with the actual Florida Georgia Line.
Wallen sings, quite often, about small-town love with such fervor and dedication that Dangerous lead single “More Than My Hometown” is about how he’d rather break up with the love of his life than leave that small town alongside her: “I need a house on the hill, girl, not in ’em / So hang onto these words till them avenues help you forget ’em.” He did that slow-motion fireworks display of a tune in November at the 2020 CMA Awards, which were held indoors, in person, which turned out to be a stupendously bad idea. At least he sounded pretty good.
Dangerous is a splendid blur of gentle dive-bar-neon antics, a fractured but somehow seamless timeline of meet-cutes and bittersweet partings, first kisses and mopey last calls. Like any polite young Nashville rebel, Wallen self-identifies as a redneck with broad tastes: raised on gospel, hangs with Diplo, shouts out Nickleback and Lil Wayne while chatting with GQ. The downbeat but melodious “Sand in My Boots” kicks us off with one of those bittersweet partings, a beach-vacation fling doomed to fade with the tide. They were just too different: “She tried talkin’ with my accent,” he recalls, ever mellifluously, with a surprising depth of feeling not bogged down by too much weighty melodrama.
You get to appreciate his light touch, and appreciate it even more when his voice hardens just a bit: “Warning,” in which Wallen is tortured by the memory of a femme fatale in a sorority T-shirt, has moody electric guitar and a clattering drum machine and some faint haunted house woos in the middle distance, a first-rate Juice Wrld tune hiding in plain sight. That drum machine only pops up every so often. Wallen is not a boisterous genre-disruptor type on the order of Sam Hunt, and despite songs called “Whiskey’d My Way,” “This Bar,” “Me on Whiskey,” “Beer Don’t,” and, yes, “Outlaw,” he’s a little too chill to be a semi-rowdy everyman on the order of Luke Combs, either. Dangerous only falters when it tries to get too bawdy, too bombastic, too rap-adjacent: The blaring “Somethin’ Country” trips over into more commonly intolerable Florida Georgia Line territory, and the song called “Country A$$ Shit” is called that.
No, his lane is Guy You Bring Home to Mama, even if your mama ends up liking him more than you do, even if he does occasionally get arrested outside Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ’N’ Roll Steakhouse. Wallen throws some grit in his voice for a growly duet with Nashville integrity avatar Chris Stapleton on “Only Thing That’s Gone,” and Stapleton easily out-growls him, of course, but you respect the effort. Somewhere deep on Disc 1, Wallen also throws in a cover of fellow Nashville integrity avatar Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” and though the pedal steel gets overzealous, it’s heartening to hear that Wallen’s mellow blur stays intact even when the words he’s singing suddenly jump several tiers in quality:
So girl, leave your boots by the bed
We ain’t leaving this room
‘Til someone needs medical help
Or the magnolias bloom
He rhymes Silverado with desperado; an hour and change later, on a puppy-love tune literally called “Silverado for Sale,” he sells his beloved truck to buy his girl a wedding ring. (This is immediately after a raucous romp called “Need a Boat.”) Which is all of a piece, though at the 11th hour, on track 29 (?!), you abruptly get “Livin’ the Dream,” an extra-stormy lament that all this success is “killin’ me, killin’ me, killin’ me, killin’ me.”
It’s a discordant note on which to end a highly anticipated double album that may very well debut at no. 1 and cement Wallen as one of 2021’s first cross-genre breakout stars, but there he is, maybe regretting all of it already:
Between alcohol and women and Adderall and adrenaline
I don’t ever get no rest
Sign my life away to be the life of the party
Yeah, to everybody else
IDK, he seemed to be having a genuinely good time back in Tuscaloosa. It’s all the more discordant because Dangerous otherwise elegantly sets aside any notions of discord or disruption or even genuine unease altogether. Wallen is just so consistent, so chill. You can’t help but love him, and can’t help but give him 32 songs to prove that he always deserves a second Yankee chance. See you at Target, baby.