Morgan Wallen has lots to say on his third album, One Thing at a Time, and it’s almost all fermented in alcohol. If albums came with an alcohol content warning, the 36-track One Thing would easily register 180 proof. Though that’s no surprise, given the undeniable success Wallen has experienced referenced drinking in his previous two albums, when listening to One Thing in one take, the constant liquor references start to blur into each other, aided by the plethora of similar-sounding mid-tempo tracks. How many ways can Wallen try to dull the pain of heartache with alcohol? It turns out the answer is infinite.
Speaking of proofs, the Joey Moi-produced One Thing at a Time has already entered the record books via its lead single, “You Proof,” which became the first 10-week No. 1 in the history of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. With Wallen’s previous set, Dangerous: The Double Album, still sitting in the top 5 of the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart in its 111th week of release, his fans show no sign of fatigue.
When Wallen announced the new set, out on Big Loud/Mercury/Republic today (March 3), he said the songs represent the last few years of his life and drew upon the three musical genres that have influenced him the most — country, alternative and hip-hop. While there are traces of the latter two on the album (including “180 (Lifestyle),” which interpolates Rich Gang’s 2014 rap smash, “Lifestyle”), most of the set falls squarely in the contemporary country pocket that has made Wallen the genre’s biggest star of the past five years.
Wallen co-wrote 14 of the tracks, but makes even the 22 compositions he didn’t write his own. Vocally, he sounds more assured than ever before, letting his twangy voice slip and slide over the melodies. For devout Wallen fans, too much of a good thing can just be wonderful. For the rest, best to take the album in smaller bites.
Below are our recommendations for the best 10 tracks on One Thing, listed in order of their appearance on the album.
“Born With a Beer in My Hand”
Written by Wallen with buddy HARDY and Zach Abend, the album opener sets a tone that runs through much of the release: Wallen wrestling with his alcohol-fueled dark side. Here, as he catalogs how he comes from a long line of drinkers, he also paints a picture of someone trying to stay in the light no matter the temptation as he embraces sobriety, at least for a while: “I ain’t saying I swore it off for good/ I’m just sayin’ I’m doing the best I can,” he sings in this mid-tempo swayer.
“Everything I Love”
Wallen, a co-writer here, kicks it old-school country on this chugging tune framed by solid slide guitar. Though the melody is ridiculously bouncy (think Kenny Rogers mid-‘80s), Wallen is shattered that he can’t go to any of his old haunts or enjoy his old lifestyle because everything reminds him of the gal who broke his heart. An interpolation of The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” includes several lyrical references to “one more silver dollar.”
“Devil Don’t Know”
The mid-tempo ballad, written by Travis Denning, Jared Mullins and Ben Stennis, highlights what Wallen does best — wallow in love’s misery. “I’ve been tryin’ to drown these demons, but damn if they don’t swim,” he sings as the knowledge that the one he loves is with someone else sinks in. “Even the devil don’t know this kind of hell,” he sings convincingly.
“One Thing at a Time”
Just try not to sing along to this toe-tapping tune that features one of the most infectious melodies that Wallen has ever recorded. It’s pure pop — so much so that it feels like it should be played back-to-back with Kelsea Ballerini’s similar ear worm, “Heartfirst.” Except since it’s Wallen, there’s no joy, only the acknowledgement that if he’s going to have to give up his ex, he can’t relinquish his cigarettes and liquor too. “If you ain’t gonna kiss me/ Then I’ll take some whiskey,” he sings. Facing her loss sober is a bridge too far.
“Thought You Should Know”
This genial ode to Wallen’s mom sits at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart this week, his second chart topper from One Thing at a Time, following “You Proof.” But the two songs couldn’t be more different: Written by Wallen with Nicolle Galyon and Miranda Lambert, this track, bolstered by the great Paul Franklin’s steel playing, is his end of a phone conversation with his mother while he’s on tour. Wallen’s eager to let her know that “all those prayers you thought you wasted on me/ must’ve finally made their way through.”
“Neon Star (Country Boy Lullaby)”
Grab your boots and get ready to do a slow two-step to this finger-snapping tune that would sound right at home on a Thomas Rhett album. Wallen’s girl’s gone, and he’s gone straight to the local watering hole to drown his sorrows. He’s “wishin’ on a neon star” hanging behind the bar that “there’s a u-turn in your car” and she’ll return home.
“Wine Into Water”
In a song that could be part two of “Neon Star,” Wallen wraps his vocals around this woeful tale of regret as he waits on the porch for his love to return so he can apologize and they can sink into the bottle he’s brought. Country lyrics are known for their clever wordplay and this song is no exception, as Wallen hopes to put their problems behind them “and turn this wine into water under the bridge.”
“Single Than She Was”
Wallen is charmingly confident as he woos a woman in a bar who’s possibly been stood up by her beau, and by the time they say good night, he’s liking his odds that he may soon be the replacement: “I ain’t sayin’ her and her mans got any plans on breakin’ up/ But I tell you what/ She’s a little more single than she was,” he boasts as the mid-tempo track progresses.
“Don’t Think Jesus”
Written by Jessi Alexander, Mark Holman and Chase McGill, the introspective “Don’t Think Jesus” features Wallen’s strongest vocal delivery on the album as he slides from a growl to a falsetto, taking on the persona of a boy living life way too fast who realizes he’s moved far from Jesus’s teachings even when it comes to turning the other cheek: “World likes to rear back and throw a few stones/ So boy wants to throw a few stones of his own/ But Lord knows I ain’t perfect, and it ain’t my place/ And I don’t think Jesus done it that way.”
After pulling the listener down to the depths of his despair, Wallen closes the set on an optimistic tone, letting us know he’s found happiness and he’s no longer “bound to hit a wall before I ever hit the brakes.” Though he once thought just as “Codeine it got Elvis/ Whiskey it got Hank,” he’d find a similar premature fate, he’s found a love that has brought him contentment and a reason to live. Maybe it’s coincidence that the song opens with a guitar intro nearly identical to “Born With a Beer in My Hand,” but it feel more like Wallen is bringing the listener full circle.