Released while his previous album, the 30-track Dangerous: The Double Album, is still hanging around the top 5 on the Billboard 200, a place that it hasn’t vacated since its release in January 2021, country-pop megastar and streaming titan Morgan Wallen’s monstrous success doesn’t seem like it’s going to slow down anytime soon – clearly, because he saw what worked for him and figured it was time to double down. Dropping the “double album” disclaimer despite adding on six more tracks, One Thing At A Time is 36 tracks long, nearly two hours in length, and still somehow feels like it has even less to say than his last project. Much like his last, most of these tracks are full of country buzzwords, endless references to whiskey and atoning for his mistakes – both romantic and in the public eye – and little to advance or alter our perception of just who this man dominating the charts really is. Still, however, he’s where he is for a reason – and if you’re truly willing to dig through the 36 tracks, you’ll find a couple moments with some of the best country-style clever lyrical flips around, passionate vocal performances and the catchiest of pop-country melodies.
That being said, I’m NOT willing. I sat through it once, and honestly? I’m not going to do it again. So I present: a review based off of what I remember after hearing the full album once, two days ago.
It might just be familiarity speaking as my eyes glazed over trying to get through the whole thing, but Wallen did a great job of selecting his singles. It’s truly impressive that the man is able to simply have a hit at all times, no matter where he’s at in his album cycles, because whatever songs he puts out will just end up on whatever massive batch of tracks he puts out a year or so down the road regardless. “Last Night” is poised to be the first true-blue country #1 hit since the late 90s, and its catchy acoustic loop, earnest delivery and hip-hop edge just slight enough to not be obnoxious or overbearing makes it one of the most deserving tracks here to take that title, while the enduring “You Proof” has to be one of the catchiest melodies Wallen has ever delivered.
Often dropping tracks three at a time, some of the other newer ones do sink into the background here – but even the first song ever released from this compilation, “Don’t Think Jesus,” really holds up (despite its relatively gross method of lyrically deflecting from some of his unsavoury actions by saying that Jesus himself would forgive him). In a world where quite a few of these tracks sound oddly washed-out and devoid of personality, it does stand out as one of the most impressive vocal performances on the album as he reaches up to a passionate falsetto. The quieter, mostly acoustic “Good Girl Gone Missing” and the heavier “I Deserve A Drink” are two more tracks where his vocals shine. And while the genre is known for clever lyricism and catching listeners off guard with a title interpreted in a way they don’t expect, Wallen is one of the best in the game at the lyrical bait-and-switch. “Wine Into Water” might be the best of the bunch, as he and his partner solve a dispute over a bottle of grape juice, turning the wine into “water under the bridge,” while the initially confusing title of “Tennessee Numbers” resolves in a satisfying way as well. While it’s less of a lyrical flip, however, the best song concept on the project might be “98 Braves.” The track finds Wallen running through a variety of fun baseball metaphors while comparing a past relationship to the famously overpowered and legendary team that fell just short of the championship – although I again doubt Wallen’s authenticity when he talks about remembering sitting on the couch, deeply invested in the team’s story: he was only five years old.
Despite all of this, if you’re truly listening to this as an album experience, the sheer amount of filler will really begin to wear on you. There’s only so many times you can hear similar lines about whiskey – especially if you already did it 30 times over two years ago. Many of the tracks’ narratives and melody lines are relatively similar, falling into a safe and formulaic territory that sometimes receives a little bit of a boost from a great lyric or performance, but never attempts to do anything innovative despite the expansive space that Wallen allocated to himself on the project. He knows that his audience isn’t looking for much more than more of the same, and he’s going to give them an absolute mountain of just what they want.
The production value on this project also feels a little bit weaker than the previous one – where I came away from Dangerous with a solid handful of tracks I wanted to keep, the melodies of quite a few different tunes popping up in my head from time to time, there’s something about the mixing here that doesn’t allow Wallen’s voice to pop as much as it once did, falling back into a country sludge and holding him back from unleashing his aw-shucks charisma. There are very few tracks here that feel like it could be nothing but a Morgan Wallen song, something that Dangerous had in spades. There aren’t many specific tracks I could pinpoint in this section, because they’re truly just designed to go in one ear and out the other, serving as the background music to an East Tennessee backyard barbecue. But let it be known that there are about 15-20 tracks here that serve the exact same purpose and are mostly indistinguishable from each other.
It’s nearly impossible to give this album a score – the last one just averaged out to a perfectly middle ground, because there were so many high and low points, and this one is essentially the same. This is less of an album and more of a glorified playlist, and for those who are brave enough to sift through and find the tracks where Wallen put a little more effort into it and let his natural affinity for the genre he dominates shine through, the success that those tracks receive will keep him spinning on the radio for all eternity. He’s the MCU of music at this point. Like it or not, it’s going to stick around.
Favourite Tracks: 98 Braves, Last Night, I Deserve A Drink
Least Favourite Track: Take your pick of any of the ones in the middle where he drinks whiskey and apologizes for something