Troubles aside, Urban's new CD stands on its own
Keith Urban, "Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing" (Capitol Nashville) , iii. How dark a shadow should real life cast on the artistic life? In pop music, the line between those worlds has become increasingly blurred, as fans' familiarity with ...
Keith Urban, "Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing" (Capitol Nashville) , iii.
How dark a shadow should real life cast on the artistic life?
In pop music, the line between those worlds has become increasingly blurred, as fans' familiarity with performers' foibles and heroics increasingly informs the listening experience.
That might be bad news for Keith Urban, because country music's superstar-in-waiting had the misfortune of relapsing into rehab just as he was releasing an album that repeatedly proclaimed what a rock of stability he was.
"Just give me one chance and, baby, I can set you free," he offers in "Shine." Elsewhere he asserts, "I'm your best friend now, I won't let you down," "Call on me and I'll be there for you" and "All that I can say is I'm here now."
Of course, he isn't there for anybody at the moment, but does the Australian singer's all-too-real situation taint the claims of "Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing"? Or can the work be heard in a pure state, its artistic truth measured strictly by what happens on the record?
Urban's fans will answer that question. But on its own terms, "Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing" (due in stores Tuesday) makes a pretty good case for itself, balancing an urge toward grandiosity with a sense of restraint and economy, and a dynamic production that's packed with twists and surprises.
The opening "Once in a Lifetime" embodies that approach, rolling along into an extended, almost meditative series of guitar solos that evokes the Allman Brothers. The album ends with Urban alone on electric piano, with just a drum machine tapping the beat, in an intimate expression of contentment and devotion.
In between are ups and downs. The best sustained lyric is "Stupid Boy," in which the singer vainly tries to stifle a free-spirited woman, and Urban gets in a dig at the president in the Katrina-themed rouser "Raise the Barn." Overall, though, the album could use more distinctive viewpoints and memorable language.
But Urban's sincerity as a singer makes him a likable companion, and at its best the music's hybrid of country roots with pop and rock strains is lively and enjoyable. In this world, anyway, Urban seems to have everything under control.