While Kip Moore remains an interesting figure within mainstream country music, he struggles to improve on past faults with his work on Wild World.
I’m not sure what Kip Moore’s place in mainstream country music is right now. On the surface, not much has changed; Moore continuously pushes into atmospheric rock tendencies that have more in common with Bruce Springsteen and the War On Drugs than anything close to country. Still, there’s something to admire about his contempt for the Nashville system and willingness to dismantle it from the outside in, and he’s a far more interesting character than most of his male mainstream country counterparts.
With that said, he’s certainly more reliant on support from his grassroots fan base than he is on country radio these days, where Moore kinda-sorta made a comeback for a while until he kinda-sorta didn’t. At any rate, it means he has the freedom to release new album Wild World despite lead single “She’s Mine” barely cracking the top 30 … and what a title, too, for right now. Like with Slowheart, though, I’m not as impressed with Moore’s work here as I was with his first two albums, and the problems extend toward a little bit of everything.
On a positive note, Moore remains an impressive presence behind the microphone, with a raw edge to his delivery that exhibits a ton of passion and emotive range. And there’s plenty of great moments where the vocal production supports it by letting him ride the spacious, heavy grooves in the atmospheric mix, especially when it’s obvious he’s pushing himself to his limit on “Fire And Flame” and “South.” He doesn’t offer much in the way of subtlety – though, that is more of a lyrical criticism – but for the most part his technical flow is solid and able to handle some of these melodies with ease. But there are moments that try to sand away those edges with multitracking or filters like “Crazy For You Tonight” and “Southpaw,” and they come across surprisingly clumsy because of it.
This, too, is a note on instrumentation and production, where it’s ultimately better when this album carries a natural, organic swell. And while it, again, is another move away from country, for Moore, he’s at least doing this brand of atmospheric roots and hard rock well, letting high guitar flutters and melodies fill the background while relying on great basslines and booming percussion to drive the groove. Even some of the synthetic elements are forgivable because of that, lending themselves to monstrous performances, again, on “South” and “Fire and Flame.” And the War On Drugs reference is appropriate for the glistening “Red White Blue Jean American Dream,” which, surprisingly enough, is much better than its title would imply. Of course, this is also Moore’s most decidedly toned-down album in quite some time, hence why the firm acoustic presence of “Janie Blu” opens the album while the jangly acoustic groove of “Payin’ Hard” drives it out.
Unfortunately, “toned-down” also means augmenting the mix with reverb to drown out the midrange and offer a more “serious” presence, but Moore proves on other tracks why he doesn’t need to rely on that. Sadly, it makes the title track, “Crazy For You Tonight” and “More Than Enough” feel stuffy and not all that interesting, and I could make a similar case for the surprisingly lazy, clunky groove of “Grow On You” that just felt overblown.
The real issue for this album, however, comes through in the lyrics and themes, which carries the same oddly presumptuous attitude in its presentation as its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against swagger and confidence, but it’s telling that one of the album’s earliest tracks, “Southpaw,” is all about wanting the allure of the outlaw life just for the glory. It’s understandable for someone like Moore, but without anything more to offer beyond that, it also comes across as shallow. And while Moore has been one of the lucky ones in mainstream country music to have success while bucking the system, it doesn’t mean that the platitude-filled, fantasy-driven writing describing a sinner is all that interesting on “Fire and Flame,” or that the life advice offered on the title track is all that unique or memorable.
Again, Moore lacks subtlety in his writing, and it bogs down quite a few of these tracks. The entire idea surrounding “She’s Mine” is that his dream girl is out there somewhere, but that hook of “tell her she’s mine” really puts a forceful, negative spin on it all. A similar case can be made for “Hey Old Lover,” where even though I’m a sucker for that melody, it’s still a bit presumptuous in its framing. It frames itself as a man calling an ex-lover knowing she’s single again, and while he tries to win her back, I’m sorry, “All the silence on the line makes me think you think I’m right” is not the go-ahead to assume she’s ready to try again. If anything, it makes the sentiment behind “Grow On You” even worse in context as well.
It’s a mixture of delivery and lack of details that’s the real issue. Sometimes pure reckless abandon that focuses more melody and groove can work, like on “Red White Blue Jean American Dream.” I’d say the tone behind “Janie Blu” is a bit judgmental overall, too, but at least there’s an attempt to shade the background of the relationship – she’s reckless and suffering from addiction while he’s not sure how to help, and there’s a real frustration watching someone spiral like that without knowing what to do. And yes, Moore can still pen a great song when wants to, as well. I remember “Guitar Man,” and while “Payin’ Hard” isn’t exactly coming close to that – it ends a bit too abruptly for my liking – there is some genuine regret in trying to unravel time’s fragile core, especially now.
As a whole, though, while Wild World doesn’t carry an outright dud like “Blonde” from Moore’s last album, I’d still struggle to call it great. The writing has its faults and the production has its slight blemishes, though it is a small step up for Moore overall. Again, it says something that he has the natural groundswell and clout to release this now of all times. As it is, it’s a bit of a stretch to slot this in the “too country for rock, too rock for country” camp, but Moore remains an interesting figure to have in mainstream country music nonetheless.
- Favorite tracks: “South,” “Payin’ Hard,” “Fire And Flame,” “Red White Blue Jean American Dream”
- Least favorite track: “Grow On You”