Keith Urban – Descending Down Under
One of music’s most innovative, progressive artists, Keith’s creativity only moves forward –
After collaborating with a sweeping crop of writers and producers for 2013’s Fuse, and its resulting four US No. 1 hits, the renowned guitarist figured his next project would be much easier, because, he reasons, “I’d already done the research and development” with Fuse’s challenging birth.
He was wrong. His desire to expand on what he’s done previously, as a songwriter, producer, singer and guitarist, and to create something entirely new and challenging led him to reach out to people he’d never worked with before and, as he puts it, “wander off into the forest again” to create songs that felt “bristling and alive.”
With no time constraints, Urban followed his muse on Ripcord, his eighth studio album, letting the journey take him where it would and following its’ every whim and fancy.
Keith Urban was in the midst of working on what would become Ripcord, when his father Robert passed away on Dec. 5, last year.
No amount of preparation can shock-proof you to that experience. It is profoundly emotional, typically inducing questions about the meaning of life, mortality, one’s core beliefs and how to prioritize one’s days. For Urban, that pondering was bound to make its way into the weave of the record.
“The impact that it had is just bringing me again back into the moment and the brevity of time,” he says. “That theme is in a few songs on this record — ‘Wasted Time,’ for sure, is sort of reflective. When life is its simplest, it’s really at its best.”
‘Wasted Time’ finds Urban doing what he seems to do best, pushing the boundaries of country music while balancing his reverence for its foundations. But it avoids the dark, downcast atmosphere that would be expected from someone adjusting to life without his dad.
Instead the now #No1 single (his 20th in total) opens with a synthed keyboard, before an electric guitar thread and the choppy sounds of ganjo percussion move the production to more familiar turf. By journey’s end, Urban manages to fold those jarring dance tones into his standard wheelhouse with a big singalong chorus, lots of six-string sounds and a cheery, nigh-inspirational message about life in the 21st century.
Lyrically, Urban folded in a rope swing he and his friends played on in Caboolture, Queensland. And they dropped in two references to Guns N’ Roses, name-checking ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ in the chorus and inserting a “Guns on the radio” line.
“I remember us discussing whether we should clarify that we’ve got ‘Guns N’ Roses on the radio,’ as opposed to we’ve got ‘Guns on the radio,’ because that might be a different, more sinister reference, more of an NRA song,” Urban says with a laugh.
“We were like, ‘Well, if someone thinks that, the chorus will clarify that here pretty soon.’ ”
From appearances by Grammy Award-winning artists Carrie Underwood and Pitbull to a who’s who of new and returning producers (ten in all), musicians and songwriters, it’s no surprise to hear Urban call this his most exhilarating album yet – it is undoubtedly the most eclectic.
“I felt this rolling energy working on these songs unlike anything before,” Urban says. “This sort of musical experimentation and liberation of not feeling confined to anything.”
Such experimentation has been a hallmark of Urban’s career. Ever since 2002’s ‘Somebody Like You’ arrived like a blast across the bow with its inventive combination of drum programming and Ganjo (a six-string banjo), Urban has been stirring up country music with sonic sensibilities that veer clear of fads.
Surely the only artist to have a drum machine that he programmed, be included in his Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit, Urban handpicked each of his collaborators and co-producers for Ripcord as he executed his clear vision to upwardly mobilize his unique musical template.
Urban’s albums have frequently utilized rhythmic elements, but he’s brought them closer to the forefront on Ripcord and of his focused obsession with rhythm he said, “It’s why you have a song like ‘In the Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins that’s so globally famous. It’s so machine-driven. It’s the machinery of that rhythm that pulls you into that song. That hypnotic, very obvious drum machine sound.”
“I’m becoming more and more aware of the rhythmic blood that f lows through me because of my father, who was a drummer his whole life, and my grandfather, who played piano his whole life,” says Urban. “My lineage is very rhythm-based, and I remember so much rhythm in our house from my dad tapping on the table to jingling his keys to tapping on the dashboard of the car. He was always in rhythm mode.”
… read the rest of the story in Issue 81.