Dangerous: The Double Album
This is Morgan Wallen’s moment. “That Boy from East Tennessee” has emerged as country’s newest superstar, thanks to a string of massive radio hits and millions of streams.
Dangerous: The Double Album suggests that the CMA’s new artist of the year has overplayed his hand. Thirty songs over two discs reveal his strengths, but also his limitations, (This rating would be higher if the album were one disc.)
Wallen captures all the heartache of “Sand in My Boots,” the finely wrought ballad that opens the set, and he also delivers strong versions of songs by Jason Isbell (“Cover Me Up”) and Eric Church (“Quitting Time”). The three are among the few tracks that hint at any real darkness or hurt and veer from radio-ready country-rock and country-pop templates.
Another one, “More Surprised than Me,” ponders appearance vs. reality and shows a refreshing level of self-awareness, though Wallen didn’t write it. “7 Summers” is a bittersweet and well-crafted piece of commercial country that he did have a hand in.
Far too often, however, Wallen dwells on the joys of redneck life. ”Call it cliché,” he dares on “Still Goin’ Down.” OK, we will.
It gets tiresome fast, as do the numbing number of songs that involve drinking. Now, drinking songs — good ones — are a staple of country. But this album should have indulged more responsibly.
On the title song, cowritten by Wallen, the jilted singer considers going out on another bender, then decides that, no, the best thing he could do is stay home. It’s a smart move, written with a hint of ambiguity, and Wallen could use more such turns off his well-trodden paths.
— Nick Cristiano
(Rough Trade *** 1/2)
Spare Ribs is the 11th album by Sleaford Mods, the duo of singer-rapper-front man Jason Williamson and beatmaker Andrew Fearn.
The band hails from Nottingham, England, and specializes in minimalist electro-punk that’s short on glamour and long on working-class rage. Crucially, though, it’s leavened with Williamson’s wit and Fearn’s clever and crafty production choices.
Sleaford Mods are intensely English. One Spare Ribs song is titled “Shortcummings,” a punny attack on Dominic Cummings, adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But like early UK punks such as the Clash and Gang of Four — and The Fall, whose snide delivery Williamson recalls — the band broadens its appeal by hitting on universal themes.
In “Mork N’ Mindy,” the Mods zero in on the stultifying claustrophobia of suburban adolescence. Amy Taylor of Amyl & the Sniffers guests on “Nudge It,” attacking toxic masculinity and mocking would-be tough guys standing around “trying to act like a gangster.”
In “Elocution” Williamson delights in lampooning careerist indie rock posers. “I wish I had the time to be a wanker just like you,” he talk-sings, and then adds with contempt: “And then I’d be somewhere lovely and warm, just like you.”
Sleaford Mods have been the bards of Brexit, decrying xenophobia on the increasingly melodic albums English Tapas in 2017 and Eton Alive in 2019. Spare Ribs adds the pandemic as another cheerful topic.
The title refers to lives that have been viewed as expendable in the global health crisis. The paradox is that as their subject matter has gotten grimmer, Sleaford Mods’ music is becoming more enjoyable, with catchier songs and an acerbic perspective that stings.
— Dan DeLuca
(Loma Vista, *** 1/2)
Rhye’s magic comes from sounding simultaneously lush and minimal. Woman, the entrancing 2013 debut from this Michael Milosh project, called to mind the jazzy soul of Sade, an obvious influence on Milosh’s whispery falsetto. After 2018′s fleshier Blood and 2019′s brief, meditative, grand piano-based Spirit comes Home, a sexy, seductive blend of keyboards, strings, and gently propulsive beats.
As with all Rhye albums, Home is for and about seduction. The sparse and simple lyrics are often little more than declarations of desire, with reiterated choruses such as “Beautiful woman / spend some time with me.” But the subtle textures, both of Milosh’s sighing vocals and the slight variations in orchestration and arrangements, make Home captivating.
It’s a “quiet storm,” as he sings in “Fire.” He sounds reserved and cool, even as the music gets steamy.
On “Black Rain,” strings move to the foreground — violin, viola, cello — recalling early ’80s disco. They work as counterpoints in the restrained funk of “Sweetest Revenge.” The Danish National Girls’ Choir provides ethereal, sometimes liturgical, backing to some songs and two wordless bookends.
— Steve Klinge