Point: Keith Urban’s Progressive ‘Ripcord’ Album Tops 2016
Keith Urban has created an exception. Like the sun and stars, you can count on a lousy album when someone says “There’s something for everyone,” but with Ripcord Urban finds a sonic thread that leaves very few out in the cold for long.
Yes, there are flat spots. Every album has them, but where those lie will be decided by one’s agenda. Songs like “Habit of You” provide a breather between double-threat heart attacks “Wasted Time” and “Sun Don’t Let Me Down,” his collaboration with rapper Pitbull. Like salt to sugar or Brooks to Dunn, one invariably makes the other better.
At 13 songs this is an enormous album, but a swollen track list is another surefire sign of mediocrity that Urban discounts on his 2016 masterpiece. When he released the album in May, tracks like “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” and “The Fighter” felt too risky for radio. But much like he did with songs from Fuse (2013), each single paves the way for edgier tracks to come.
“Cop Car” would have been a dangerous lead single then, much like any of the rhythmic electro-country tracks would have been when Urban started releasing singles from his latest album in 2015. As the calendar flips to 2017, however, his new sound has been normalized by his contemporaries. “If it’s not risky it’s not working” isn’t quite the motto to live by, but with so many other ways to have a hit song, a Pitbull collaboration that once seemed like an insane choice for radio suddenly feels much safer, exciting even (minus that introduction, of course, 'cause that ain’t working for anyone).
The focus on the power of this studio album overlooks its more sensitive moments, which make up the heart of Ripcord. “Blue Ain’t Your Color” may be the album’s signature song, a Taste of Country top pick for 2016. “Break on Me” is as nurturing of a love song as you’ll hear. “That Could Still Be Us” finds Urban closer to the microphone, heartbroken and fragile. It’s a reminder that this now drunk on love singer used to do heartache as good as anyone since George Jones.
Only an artist with Urban’s experience can pull as many influences and styles into a cohesive hour of music. If any other singer’s name was at the top of Ripcord, it’d be assaulted with every overcooked insult in the traditional country playbook. The 49-year-old is able to get away with things others can’t, and he leans into that well-earned right on his ninth studio album. There isn’t an artist in country music that’s pushing the format forward further, but because he’s grounded in the classics we trust that he won’t steer us wrong. Thus far, he’s only made exhilarating bursts of creativity, collaboration and expression. No other album is as generous.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back in January for another installment.
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