Album Review: Kip Moore – ‘Damn Love’

After releasing two mostly excellent albums that blended country with Bruce Springsteen-inspired ‘80s rock and heartland-inspired Americana, I’ll admit Kip Moore somewhat lost me. I’ve always considered him to be an interesting figure within mainstream country music for following his own heart as a songwriter with little regard for trends – even despite how his particular style has lost quite a bit of ground in popularity, if we’re looking at recent performances from artists cut from similar cloths like Eric Church or Brantley Gilbert – but 2017’s Slowheart was an oddly sour listen that leaned too hard on overblown machismo for my tastes, and 2020’s Wild World had the opposite problem of feeling too murky and lethargic (fitting for the time period, I suppose, but that only makes it harder to revisit).

And as the country music winds change and his chart success falters, it does leave one wondering where he goes from here. I’ve heard from friends who have seen him live that he’s stated his newest album, Damn Love, is going to be his last for Universal Records (take that with a grain of salt, of course), and if true, I can kind of see why. Not just because of this album’s random release as the lead single title track only starts to gain traction a few months after its release, but also because this album feels at odds with itself in a way that suggests some compromise. Even with that said, however, in leaning harder than ever on his influences on cuts that feel far more adventurous and adrenaline rush-inducing than pretty much anything of his since Wild Ones … well, OK, he still might somewhat walk in the shadows of his influences even now, but there’s enough quality material here to make for one of his best albums in some time, even if it is obviously patchy in certain places.

Actually, given that the album starts in patchy territory, I might as well address that first. The title track certainly adopts the same atmospheric swell that’s defined the bulk of his work, but it doesn’t really lend the song any sense of momentum or groove and feels out-of-place for a boilerplate “young love” song that he did once before on, well, “Young Love.” And “Kinda Bar” is a Luke Combs knockoff that services as little more than a mindless checklist drinking song and feels too choppy in terms of melodic flow to even be remotely memorable.

After that, the album treads into far more interesting, less radio-friendly territory that leans effectively on all of those influences. For as much as Moore’s sound has always been indebted to the aforementioned general ‘80s rock sound in all of its Springsteen and Bob Seger worship – seriously, “The Guitar Slinger” is basically a remake of “Turn the Page,” and I’m not complaining about that – the distinctive driving force has always been Moore as an actual vocal presence. Sure, his expressive howl and swagger can make certain songs that are already dumb like “Kinda Bar” feel even more meatheaded, but there’s less swagger and machismo on display this time around and more of a haggard hunger and desperation that comes from feeling the miles. It’s an album where the driving moments here feel more urgent and lively, regardless of whether it’s a more conventional hookup track like “Heart On Fire” with its propulsive groove trying to find a spark, or the more introspective “Silver & Gold” with another fantastic groove and even better melodic riff and hook to match. It also has always helped that his vocal production has allowed him the space to ride the heavy, spacious grooves, and this is the best showcase of that in quite some time.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments that feel a bit too indebted to the sound in some of the dated synthetic elements on the title track or the opening of “Peace & Love” that (thankfully) levels off fairly quickly, but in leaning more on the atmospheric shimmer that lent Wild Ones so much muscle and raw passion in 2015, the highlights here are among Moore’s best for swinging back around to that. I love the windswept gallop anchoring “Neon Blue” in riding the role of the consummate showman with a bit more unease as he grows older, a sentiment that only amplifies itself on the following “Guitar Slinger” off those smokey keys and smoldering electric axes.

Really, it’s no surprise that the songs that lean more heavily on that sort of spacious mix are the ones that feel more desperate and urgent – an album where Moore is thankful for still getting to live out his rock star dream a decade in but also one where he’s visibly frustrated by growing older and not having as much to show for it as he’d maybe prefer. “Another Night in Knoxville” comes not long afterward and reinforces that notion in its desire for a greater personal connection to someone, or even just something more.

It’s why I love the run of songs from “Neon Blue” to “Silver & Gold” that directly reinforces that paradoxical frustration, not just from a lyrical standpoint for turning inward and feeling more weathered and mature, but also just from a melodic and groove-driven standpoint, too. Sadly, it’s also why I’m less impressed by the latter half of this project, which defaults back to more broadly sketched, settled, boilerplate sentiments reminiscent of the title track and just feels more quaint and less interesting. It’s still fairly thoughtful and mature in finding greater personal fulfillment on tracks like “Sometimes She Stays” and “Mr. Simple,” but the dull melodies and general lethargic pacing really feels like a let-down after a more windswept first half. And if I’m looking for even bigger disappointments, the Ashley McBryde duet certainly qualifies as just an average love song that’s nothing too special.

Thankfully, it roars back around with “Micky’s Bar,” another great closing track from Moore that feels lived-in with its character-rich detail of a familiar scene but, again, also feels older in sketching out broken dreams and faded scenes of what could have been. And yet, hope isn’t lost for all and there is a chance to find love in unexpected places by its end, a fitting end for an album in search of greater connection and fulfillment, really. That’s the frustrating part about this album, because cut away the obvious fat of the radio concessions here and I’d maybe call it his best record yet for leaning a bit more darker and personal – the highlights truly do have so much crunching momentum that flatters him and this record’s general feel excellently. As it is, the highlights do show potential for whatever awaits him next, though what exactly that means, no one can tell quite yet. And even then, Damn Love is still damn solid.

  • Favorite tracks: “Neon Blue,” “The Guitar Slinger,” “Heart On Fire,” “Another Night in Knoxville,” “Silver & Gold,” “Peace & Love,” “Micky’s Bar”
  • Least favorite track: “Kinda Bar”

Buy or stream the album.

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