Keith Urban’s latest release, Graffiti U, features a mix of new styles and sounds consistent with his previous music. The album is long—it contains 15 songs, lasting a total of 52 minutes—giving it room to experiment with a variety of different stylistic approaches. Some songs sound strange, others are absolutely fantastic, others are slow but contain engaging lyrics. If there is one characteristic common throughout Graffiti U, it’s the blatant display of Urban’s sheer talent on the guitar, which is prevalent in most of the songs.
The album starts off on an unexpected note. On “Coming Home (feat. Julia Michaels),” the guitar intro sounds uncanny and awkward. This might be the first time that Urban’s guitar skills actually made a song sound worse. The good news? This is just the first track on the record, and it’s all uphill from here.
“Never Comin Down,” the second song on the album, features a solid rhythm and interesting vocal effects. Urban is so famous for his guitar playing that people often forget that he is a skilled vocalist as well—this song, as well as the entire album, serve as a reminder that his voice plays a major role in the quality of his music. Urban seems to release a country summer anthem every year—between the lighthearted lyrics and fun, upbeat rhythm, “Never Comin Down” can easily be 2018’s.
Another song written with summertime in mind is “My Wave (feat. Shy Carter).” The song is packed with stripped-down guitar licks and laid-back, relaxing lyrics to make for a tropical sound. Although Carter’s rap at the end of the song seems random, it does mix well with the track’s overall sensation.
Following “My Wave” comes “Parallel Line,” which is easily the pinnacle of the album. With Ed Sheeran as one of the co-writers, the ballad features lyrics that progress and flow in an organic manner and are strikingly honest in the best way possible. “Parallel Line” has the perfect amount of simplistic electric guitar to complement the well-written lyrics. The only issue with this song is in the title—you can’t have just one parallel line—but if you can get past this comedic minute detail, you might agree that it’s one of the best country songs released this year.
Another standout on the album is “Gemini,” a mysteriously groovy song featuring clever lyrics and a pop-sounding beat. To close out the song, Urban breaks into what might be the best guitar solo of the album—it’s catchy, smooth, and complements the rest of the song completely.
Although many of the tracks on the record would more easily be categorized as pop than country, “Texas Time” is an exception. The song is a solid country song in every aspect: It has a steady rhythm, simple chord progression, and feel-good lyrics praising the South’s best attributes. Lyrics such as “135, Dallas down to Austin / We can fine a world we can get lost in” are found throughout the song, exalting the Lone Star State and all that can be found there.
“Love the Way It Hurts (So Good)” sounds the most like Urban’s previous music. It’s catchy and reminiscent of past summer memories. The song is a solid take on John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” and if it could lose some of the synthetic effects, it could stand as a solid sequel to the classic.
The last song on Graffiti U, “Steal My Thunder,” features a rhythm so engagingly steady it could put the listener into a trance. The lyrics are happy and sweet, but the real standout characteristic is the song’s length—it’s over seven minutes long. After the first four minutes of “Steal My Thunder,” Urban does what he does best: he breaks into a great guitar solo to close out the song, with the exception of a strange rap verse at the end, creating some confusion for the listener to dwell upon for the next few minutes.
The penultimate song on the record, “Female,” became wildly popular after it was released as Graffiti U’s lead single. The track, written by Shane McAnally, combats the stereotype of country music as a male-dominated genre with lyrics inspired as a response to the plethora of sexual assault scandals that have pierced the lives of Americans across the country. Intuitive lines such as “When somebody talks about how it was Adam first / Does that make you second best / Or did He save the best for last?” flow in a rolling motion throughout the entire song, which takes an important stance on an issue that needed to be addressed by the music community.
Graffiti U is the perfect mix of the unexpected and the reliable. At some times, the listeners are thrown into a state of perplexity at the sounds that are coming out of their speakers, but more often than not they are relieved to find that another classic Urban guitar lick—most likely the reason they picked up the album in the first place—is right around the corner.
Featured Image by Capitol Records Nashville