April 30, 2009

Test Spin: Keith Urban

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Keith Urban is addicted to defiance. He’s defied expectations (he’s an Australian singing American heartland country-pop with a perfect twang), defied a downward slump (2006’s Love, Pain, and the Whole Crazy Thing was a downbeat disappointment that no one thought he’d recover from), and defied critics of his popularity (he employs enough banjos, steel guitars and virtuoso soloing chops to justify himself as a “real musician”).
His new album is titled Defying Gravity. And defy he certainly does. Lead single “Sweet Thing” exemplifies the standard Keith Urban hit, with an upbeat chorus and plenty of firecracker guitar-work, this time employing a chiming effect that recalls late ’80s U2. Is it groundbreaking? No, just another feel-good tune that Urban can notch into his belt. But it’s distinctly him, and positive enough to indicate he’s gotten over Nicole Kidman and his unfortunate previous album.
Opener “Kiss a Girl” has the same country / rock / pop mile-wide-smile mid-tempo groove of “Sweet Thing,” and spacey, heartfelt ballads like “If Ever I Could Love” and “Til Summer Comes Around” round out the album. Urban still throws in a few licks that showcase his Grammy-winning guitar prowess, and a couple of well-timed falsettos prove he’s no vocal slouch, either. All in all an admirable, if not re-inventive, return to form.
It’s May tomorrow. Roll down the window, crank “Hit the Ground Runnin’” and kick off summer vacation — defying the semester’s insanity.