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.