Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Morgan Wade’s major label debut, Reckless (released in 2021 and reviewed by my good self for this very site) made waves in the overcrowded Nashville Country scene by virtue of its incredibly raw and honest songwriting and a willingness to move outside of Nashville’s corporate hit machine production-line sound.
It effortlessly combined Country, Folk, Americana, Pop and Rock into a highly addictive blended sound and, supported by stellar live shows in the US, UK and Europe, established Morgan Wade as a true rising star. Her unusual image (all tattoos and eschewing the usual trappings of typical female artists in Nashville) plus the fact that her story is one of addiction, hard living, addiction recovery and coping with the challenges of Tourette Syndrome helped add to the draw, as she garners huge respect wherever she goes.
Now she returns in 2023 with her second major label album, Psychopath, and displays some evolution in her sound, if not her overall style. The success of her debut means that Morgan has been able to access the cream of the Nashville songwriter fraternity (Ashley Monroe, Natalie Hemby, Hillary Lindsay, Liz Rose, Angeleena Presley and Lori McKenna) for some co-writes, although some are written by her alone or in collaboration with producer and multi-instrumentalist Sadler Vaden.
The album opens with the glorious Pop/Country/Soft Rock majesty of ‘Domino’. Musically, the track has a gorgeous Pop sheen and highly infectious major key melody, but the lyric hints at a woman still struggling to battle her demons, although finding support and solace in an un-named someone. It’s a killer uptempo and uplifting track that is the perfect album opener.
This is followed by the quite stunning ‘80’s Movie’, a superb uptempo love song which clearly has its influences in the Pop-Rock of the 80s (Morgan often does a cover mash-up of The Outfield’s ‘Your Love’ and Rick Springfield’s ‘Jessie’s Girl’ in her live shows, so clearly loves that kinda thing.) The guitar sounds are very 80s and the guitar solo has a definite 80s vibe. It is the perfect choice for a single and is the sort of song that leaves you with a feel-good grin on your face.
‘Losers Like Me’ is self-written and is a delightful and nostalgic look back to being 16 and ignorant of the trials and hardships of life. Once again, the major key melodies belie the poignant undercurrent in the lyrics and Morgan isn’t afraid to drop in the odd profanity here and there to add weight and raw honesty to her writing (“Déjà vu been here before, I f***ed you on this hotel floor, I’m here again, but I’m all alone.”) This is a tad unusual in Country music, which tends to the conservative within the mainstream – clearly the more mainstream production and sound hasn’t altered the quality of Morgan Wade’s writing and it’s a darned good job too!
‘Roman Candle’ is another self-written track. Mid-paced and grooving, it has another irresistible Pop sheen to add to the Americana/Modern Country vibe. This is followed by the beautifully melancholic Natalie Hemby and Sadler Vaden co-write, ‘Guns and Roses’, which features piano and strings and has an ominous sadness lurking within the lyrics and behind the spacious and open production. Morgan’s vocal is beautifully vulnerable on this track, going from delicate softness to raspy raw power.
Unlike ‘Guns and Roses’ which isn’t about a famous band who have influenced Morgan’s artistry, ‘Alanis’ is about Alanis Morrisette and how Morgan finds similarities within herself and the iconic Jagged Little Pill artist. This kind of song could easily fall flat on its face with cheesy hero-worship, but that is not the case here. Rather, the song celebrates Alanis Morrisette’s artistry and how her influence has supported Morgan Wade’s own artistry. It’s very well-written indeed and has a sound that throws back to Jagged Little Pill in its gnarly guitars, but still sounds effortlessly contemporary and very much Morgan Wade’s sound.
‘Phantom Feelings’ revisits the Pop influenced sheen of earlier tracks on the album, but with more of an alternative Rock edge in the jangling guitar chords that accentuate the melodies as the track builds. It’s a wonderfully well-written song looking back with what seems like regret to times with an old lover.
This is followed by the title track, ‘Psychopath’, which is a standout track on what is already an excellent body of work. The production on this is achingly wonderful, with a ton of room for the sparse and delicate instrumentation to breathe. Add to this a lyric that is sheer poetry and you have one helluva powerful song. When this woman feels, she feels deeply! Truly deeply! It’s an utterly awesome track for sure.
‘Outrun Me’ is pretty much a who’s who of the best songwriters in Nashville within its co-writes, and is a wonderful, gentle, laid-back song about a love that has died. This track somehow manages to take the Pop sheen that is so prevalent in corporate Nashville, but still emerge as a track that is a million percent better than most everything coming out of Music City these days. Absolutely wonderful stuff, with more delicious lyricism.
‘Want’ is up next, heralded by Country bar piano and is a fabulous song about being powerfully attracted to someone with a desire that is impossible to resist. Although it’s probably my least favourite on the album, it’s still head and shoulders above most Country out there at the moment.
‘Fall in Love With Me’ is the latest single release from Psychopath. It’s another self-written track and reminds me of the sort of thing that Country megastars Little Big Town do in their more quirky moments (and that is a very good thing!) It has a wonderful groove punctuated by choppy off-beat guitars and with quirky keyboard solo lines. It is probably the most mainstream-sounding track on the album, but still manages to avoid the cliches that abound in so much contemporary Nashville Country music.
Up next, ‘Meet Somebody’ is a brooding, dark, disturbing Alternative Rock-influenced track with an odd melody in the chorus and layers of grungy guitars. The vocal has a weird effect on it that makes it sound almost metallic, which really suits the lyrical delivery. “Why the hell can’t I meet somebody, all these people wanna do is f**k someone at the party” Morgan laments as she searches for an apparently elusive hookup.
The album ends with the intensely powerful and personal ’27 Club’ which is named after the phenomenon of high-profile artists who all died at 27 years of age, including Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
If you know anything about Morgan Wade’s past, this track will literally make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end as she celebrates the fact that she has gotten through, has faced down her demons and despite all the mental health issues and continued struggles, has survived to be 28 years old, thereby not being a member of the 27 Club. It also very cleverly references her brilliant breakout song ‘Wilder Days’ which is further testament to the genius behind some of the lyric writing on this album. It is also the perfect album closer.
Phew! What an immense album! It is about as far away from this site’s usual diet of Hard Rock/Metal as it’s possible to get, but for fans of well-written and excellently produced music with a host of influences from Pop, Rock, Americana and Country, this is an absolutely essential listen.
While perhaps not as musically hard-hitting as Reckless, it shows that Morgan Wade is not afraid to be herself and to bare her soul to the listening public. It’s not always a comfortable place, as the dark undertones aften hint at the struggles that she still goes through, but there is in this album a sense of positivity, of a light just emerging at the end of a long tunnel.
I think we’ve a lot more to hear from Morgan Wade yet and I for one will be along for the duration of that ride, no matter where it takes us. An outstanding Contemporary Country/Americana album that is very highly recommended indeed!
Listen On: Apple Music: https://mw.lnk.to/Psychopath/applemusic
Amazon Music: https://mw.lnk.to/Psychopath/amazonmusic
YouTube Music: https://mw.lnk.to/Psychopath/youtubem…
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