Fuse

"Wish I could take a cab down to the creek/And hang a disco ball from an old oak tree," sings Keith Urban on "Little Bit of Everything," the tweakin'-on-the-tailgate single from his latest album, which tricks out his buff country pop with synth bass, digital stutters and big-box beats. It's hardly news: Urban has been working crossovers since his 1999 solo debut, and even held his own between co-judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey on last year's American Idol. What is surprising, though, is how unforced and fun the record sounds. 

An affable country talent, Urban here becomes an impressive twang-pop ambassador. For all the up-to-the-minute production talent – including Stargate and Mike Elizondo – this often sounds like an Eighties record, all big, clipped drums and guitar-face soloing (see "Even the Stars Fall 4 U," massaged by Fall Out Boy producer Butch Walker). Urban's lyrics remain pro forma: Dude drives around, thinks about hot girl ("Somewhere in My Car") or goes to bar/club, comes on to hot girl ("Good Thing"). 

Still, the best tracks are the most country: The date-gone-wrong "Cop Car" is a marvel of Music Row story compression with sneaky R&B flow, and duets with new-school Nashville A-listers Miranda Lambert ("We Were Us") and Eric Church ("Raise 'Em Up") give guests and host equal shine. Sometimes, leaving your zone is the best way to find yourself.

From The Archives Issue 1192: September 26, 2013