Keith Urban is a freak of nature. A phenomenal writer, master guitar player and engaging vocalist, he may in fact be the perfect recording artist. And he is unquestionably one of the premier talents in music today. His latest album, Defying Gravity, puts all of these various attributes in full display on what amounts to a technically flawless collection. Urban’s hooks are tight, his melodies memorable, and his vocals exemplary.
But despite Urban’s immense gifts–and the album’s name–Defying Gravity never fully takes flight. The 11 tracks contained here share tight, focused production that binds them together in a immeasurably cohesive collection that achieves high marks in essentially every quantifiable area but which strives for–and achieves–very little creatively.
Urban seldom ventures from the pop groove that has defined his recent work, and the songs on Defying Gravity are interchangeable with hits like 2007’s Richard Marx co-penned “Everybody.” Defying Gravity is a safe record that has no defining moments, a compilation of 11 very good songs that sound too similar to stand out.
Urban has long been prone to the embrace of lighthearted confection like the album’s lead single “Sweet Thing,” and the result has been generally positive, as few artists can so smoothly deliver a bubbly hook with an appropriately effervescent touch.
But Urban’s upbeatness has typically been tempered by much more artistically engaging fare like “Stupid Boy,” which came on the heels of “Once in a Lifetime Love,” and “You’ll Think of Me” which immediately followed the breezy “Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me.”
On Defying Gravity, Urban sounds unusually content, the result being a record that lacks the balance of previous efforts. And it also lacks the punch. There is not an ounce of rawness here, not even a glimpse of the Aussie roots that sometimes slips into Urban’s music. Co-producer Dann Huff’s slick hand has crafted a disc so dominated by looping percussion and typical guitar riffs that, even though it sounds beautiful (and it does) it doesn’t sound very interesting.
And then there’s the unfortunate fact that Urban’s narrative voice here sounds tired and uninspired. He writes the hell out of songs like “If Ever I Could Love,” but the concepts are so usual that even when sculpted by a master’s hand they maintain an essence of prefabrication.
Cap it all off with an unfortunate cover of the Radney Foster/Georgia Middleman song “I’m In” that lacks the urgency and energy of the original version by The Kinleys, and Defying Gravity adds up to a disappointing album that will offend no one and engage some, but which is ultimately far less than what Urban is capable of.
Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club
When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.
To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.
They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.
The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.
The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.
Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.
Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.
Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.
While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.
Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.
EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat
When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,” from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).
Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.
The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.
Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.
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