Chalk one up for boring guys:
Keith Urban’s Defying Gravity beat out Prince’s LotusFlow3r to land at No. 1 on this week’s Billboard album chart. The New Zealand-born, Australian-raised singer-songwriter-guitarist (and husband of Nicole Kidman) has been building towards this: His last two studio albums, 2006’s Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing and 2004’s Be Here, both hit No. 3. And at this year’s Grammy Awards, he was given a prime spot on the Bo Diddley tribute alongside John Mayer and B.B. King. Despite all that, I have an Urban-shaped hole in my record collection — one that I won’t rush to fill.
I think Taylor Swift is a gifted ingï¿½nue, and I find Brad Paisley endearingly quirky. So why do I feel like it’s okay to overlook Keith Urban?
When Love came out three years ago, I remember having similar thoughts about the guy — he’s popular, why don’t I care? I listened to the album. A few times. The songs were polished to an inhuman gloss. The lyrics were trite. The melodies were standard issue Nashville pop. Now and then there were some cool guitar licks. But fundamentally, the music sounded like it was made by a dude who really dug the songs Lindsey Buckingham recorded for Fleetwood Mac, but didn’t understand the things that made them cool. It wasn’t long before I deleted the album from my hard drive.
Gravity is more of the same. And its essence can be encapsulated by the following bad joke: Defying Gravity? More like Defying Gravitas!
On ballads like “My Heart is Open” and “Thank You,” Urban aims for meaningful, but I can only take vague, new-agey phrases like “Your love is healing” and “I was in too deep” so seriously. Southern Rock-lite, up-tempo tracks like “Hit the Ground Running” sprinkle banjo lines among polite guitar distortion and call it a day. If there’s something distinctive about Urban’s thin, grainless voice, I can’t hear it.
It’s puzzling. When I watch Urban play live — I’m thinking of his and Alicia Keys’ performance of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” at Live Earth from a few years back — he’s got a certain gunslinger ï¿½lan about him. But that vibe is nowhere on his records.
Really, though, Urban’s music doesn’t have enough character to qualify as bad. His stuff exists on the same gauzy, clichï¿½d, and wildly popular plain as Thomas Kinkade paintings and commemorative porcelain. It’s emotional balm, and if listening to it makes people feel better for a few minutes or a few hours, then I’m glad it exists. And I thank God for Brad Paisley.