Until he had the No. 1 album in America this last week, it’s possible your primary exposure to Morgan Wallen was when, this fall, during the most devastating pandemic any of us will ever (hopefully) experience, he got kicked off an appearance on SNL when TikToks surfaced showing the country singer partying and swapping spit in bars without a mask during the celebration for a college football game. It was a real live-by-the sword, die-by-the-sword moment for Wallen, who owes a lot of his unprecedented rise — a nobody two years ago, to topping Billboard now — to viral fame on TikTok, to very nearly having his undoing via the same app. Part of being a fan of modern country is acknowledging that the people behind these songs are often going to do things you’d block people for on Twitter, and that has dovetailed with the Morgan Wallen experience: He does something stupid, apologizes, goes on a redemption tour, and you hope the music is good at the end of all the wallowing and acting wrongly in public.
Which, more to the point here, Morgan Wallen’s new album, Dangerous makes, well, everything else with Wallen, but a blip on background: This is an audacious, big, dumb, catchy, and doesn’t so much as pick up the torch of Bro-Country — a genre that has felt like it was waning in recent years — as it does turn that torch into a bonfire. The concerns of this album are as straightforward as they need to be: whiskey, women, trucks, hometowns, beer, going country, and boat speakers that go boom, boom. But Wallen gets by on charm, clever songwriting, and more swagger than he can possibly harness; Dangerous is 30 songs long, an Exile on Main Street for playing over a shitty Bluetooth connection in your Silverado.
There are two dominant modes on Dangerous: The recalcitrant, sad-boy ballad, and the up-tempo Stone Cold Steve Austin beer bash party anthems. Dangerous is roughly split between those two modes by album; the first 15 songs are heavy on some of Wallen’s best ballads, like “Somebody’s Problem,” “Sand in My Boots,” “7 Summers,” “More Than My Hometown,” and “865.” Wallen first rose to prominence on the show The Voice, so it should come as no surprise that his honeyed, sandy, growling voice is malleable enough to handle all the ballads, and he’s even able to go toe-to-toe with Chris Stapleton on “Only Thing That’s Gone,” and deftly cover Jason Isbell’s raw nerve “Cover Me Up.”
It’s on the party tunes that Wallen shines the brightest, however; “Country A$$ Shit” is the most singularly absurd and delightful country single since some of the early Florida Georgia Line songs, with Wallen singing: “Between workin' it off and gettin' it chewed / There ain’t much country ass left in these old blue jeans / But wait a minute, the whole world can kiss it / 'Cause me and my country ass gone fishin'” with a mix of attitude and earnestness that’s impossible to not root for. “Beer Don’t” has Wallen finding a complicit partner to bad decisions in that can of PBR, “Whatcha Think of Country Now” gives new life to the “country boy shows city girl what the country is like” trope, and “Need a Boat” is well, about needing a boat. The title track, with it’s whoo-whoos and tempo meant for day-drinking, seems destined to dominate country radio for the next two years, the truest mark of Dangerous’s success: This thing is stacked with potential hits.
By the time Dangerous culminates in its 30th song, the Eric Church co-penned “Quitting Time,” a breakup ballad that Wallen sings downright beautifully, the album has gone longer than some Pixar movies, but never really feels like it. This is a long album that has enough curveballs, and enough enjoyment to feel like a real journey. Wallen still might get more mainstream press for how he manages to step on a proverbial rake but he’s already ascended to the king of country, and up next is the world.