New Zealand-born, Australia-raised multi-platinum country singer/songwriter Keith Urban takes on a different direction with his seventh studio album Fuse –finding a value for commercial aesthetics in country music.
The album title pointedly describes its motif, which is to fuse together these two elements in a bid to test the limits of what country fans will let be described as country. Lines are crossed with this album, but with the use of eight producers to work with Urban’s talent, I don’t think Fuse will offend any fans.
Urban teams up with eight sets of producers for Fuse, including Butch Walker, Stargate, Zach Crowell, Ross Copperman, Mike Elizondo and Jay Joyce, to interweave pop, rock and country.
Urban said of the album’s eclectic tones, “I think I’ve always had certain elements that were present in my music, but this time they’re more prominent. The basic foundation here was to take a drum loop and a banjo, which has been part of my sound since the mid ‘90s, and then build out from there with other instruments—synthesizers, keyboards, things that I wouldn’t normally put on my records—and seeing if I could bring them together with organic instrumentation.”
Fuse is Urban’s first album in nearly three years and is also his first since his surgery to remove a polyp and a nodule from his vocal cords. During this time Urban has also been a judge on American Idol and a coach on the Australian version of The Voice. Maybe this is where he started to take an interest in more commercial sounds.
The first single from the album Little Bit of Everything is just as subtle as the album title in pointedly telling his audience, we’re dabbling in a little bit of everything here. But it seems to be working as the single has topped the Billboard Country Airplay charts. It has a pop oriented sound, and is an upbeat, fun song. It’s not so much about thinking, and if you let it be just that, it’s super catchy.
Even the Stars at the top of the album is described by Urban as a turning point, drawing on a recent Fall Out Boy record for inspiration. Urban said, “I realised that this is probably where the expansion of the new sound begins… this is where we push out from where we used to be and go somewhere different.” It’s maybe a little different, with the use of an electric guitar to create a rock vibe. But we can also still hear the banjo.
The fourth track on the album Shame was co-written by Stargate and Benny Blanco, who have worked with Beyonce, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. It has storytelling lyrics but also could be easily described as a pop song. It’s stripped back and simplistic which showcases Urban’s voice and the lyrics of the song.
The duet with Miranda Lambert We Were Us is a sweet and simple pure country song. His other duet on the album Raise ‘Em Up with Eric Church is also pure country and sounds a lot like his previous track Somebody Like You.
Love’s Poster Child in the middle of the album is co-produced by Joyce, and is a rocky, up tempo country song. It’s funky and emotive – and uses a slide guitar to fill the depth of sound. Good Thing is confusingly catchy; you don’t know what you’re listening to, but you like it. It actually sounds a little bit like Robert Palmer’s Simply Irresistible. Go figure.
In the end, Fuse succeeds as a country album. That voice of Urban’s has a standout, country sensibility that you can’t get past – which will mean Urban can never really go full pop. The dabbling in different genres makes him fresh – and smartly, more commercially viable, since a lot of his new fan base will be gathered through his appearance on mainstream TV shows. Original fans and newcomers will both get something they like out of Fuse
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