Keith Urban – THE SPEED OF NOW Part 1

Capitol Records Nashville

Release Date: September 18th 2020

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Keith UrbanTHE SPEED OF NOW Part 1 (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Out of the Cage (feat. Breland and Nile Rogers)
  2. One Too Many (duet with Pink)
  3. Live With
  4. Superman
  5. Change Your Mind
  6. Forever
  7. Say Something
  8. Soul Food
  9. Ain’t It Like a Woman
  10. With You
  11. Tumbleweed
  12. God Whispered Your Name
  13. Polaroid
  14. Better Than I Am
  15. We Were
  16. We Were (feat. Eric Church)

Keith Urban has been a household name for ages. Present from the 2000s onward, and delivering standout songs like ‘Somebody Like You’, ‘Days Go By’, ‘You’re My Better Half’, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ and ‘But for the Grace of God’, to name a few; this country superstar has how unveiled to us his latest musical collection, encapsulated in the title The SPEED OF NOW Part 1 (maybe that’s an indication that they’ll be a part 2, sometime in the future?). Fusing together country and pop, like he has done for quite some time, we happen to see one of this year’s most anticipated releases, not just in country music but in all music full stop, come to life in a 16 track list, poignantly reminding us through the melodies and songs, of the  necessity of us to slow down and to reevaulate if and when necessary during this tumultuous and uncertain time in our lives of 2020, called COVID-19. With Keith’s passionate guitar driven sound featured as a trademark in his new album, this is a must-have for anyone who has enjoyed Keith’s older material of the past (myself included), or anyone who loves similar styled artists, like Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton, or just anyone who loves country music, period!

I’ve long since been of the opinion that country music wasn’t necessarily for me. Whether it was the stereotype that all they do is sing about trucks, girls, beer and dirt roads, and maybe some country music is like that. I mean, if there wasn’t some truth to the assumption that I was believing, then I guess there would be no need for this viral video uploaded in 2013 about the state of country music at that time. Nevertheless, here we are in 2020, and a lot has changed. I’ve become much more aware of how good music is good music, regardless of the musical genre. I’ve listened to country artists like Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain, Lady A, Rascal Flatts, Lindsay Ell, Lauren Alaina, Jana Kramer, Hunter Hayes and Keith Urban, over the year, and as I’ve realised that country music has a lot more to say than I give the genre credit for, I’ve been able to enjoy music far more widely than I’ve been before. Keith Urban and his music has been on my radar for a while- so much so that I wrote about his influence in one of my blog posts earlier this year– and so once you all have finished reading (or at least glancing) through the post, we can see that Keith’s music has been challenging people over the years, inclusive of mine. 2020 marked the year of Keith’s next album in The Speed of Now Part 1, an album influenced partly by the COVID-19 lockdown. It has been out of the common shared experience of COVID-19 that this album has been born- resulting in songs like ‘We Were’, ‘Polaroid’, ‘God Whispered My Name’ and ‘Supeman’, to name a few. With the album straying a little more away from country and towards the pop/EDM that seem to grab hold of a lot of artists today, this album is a must if you’re a fan of country music, or a fan of Keith’s music of the past, or if you enjoy EDM or pop…or howabout a combination of all these options!

‘God Whispered Your Name’, the first official single from the album (‘We Were’ was released as a standalone single in 2019) came out at the end of February, and featured Keith on a lightly acoustic slow-ish ballad that doesn’t really resemble a country song at all, but still is a classy and timely reminder of the change he has undergone throughout his life- and how he stands before us to declare that his significant other has changed him for the better (ever since the point where God Almighty above has ‘whispered her name’). While Keith himself didn’t write the song, CCM artist Christ August (along with a few other writers) did- and all throughout the song, this notion of a redemptive love that comes when someone loves someone else unconditionally, is an ode to Chris’s Christian faith, and a reminder that often when such a change occurs in someone’s life, it can only be attributed to the divine. ‘Polaroid’ is a song released in April, and is a song that speaks about reminiscing about the past, and looking upon the now and the future with fondness because of the memory that has been brought to the surface because of this polaroid picture. A moment where we understand and realise that because of certain events in our past, who we are now is totally different (maybe in a good way?) to who we were back then; ‘Polaroid’ incorporates a unique way of filming a one-shot video, with a few stop-motion techniques that would’ve made the music video of ‘Polaroid’ one of the most difficult Keith had to make throughout his whole entire career of making music videos. Nevertheless, both ‘Polaroid’ and ‘God Whispered Your Name’ (that showcase a different musical side of Keith than what we have been used to) are a big departure from his country-music days, and though this could mean that he gets some flak for the expansion of his musical genre, I reckon the 2 styles of these two songs are different and unique, and are just what is needed for new listeners to be brought along the journey of Keith Urban and his music. With these two songs anchoring the album musically and thematically, what has transpired is something on more of a spiritual/faith-based plane, as we see a more introspective Keith because of his years in the business, as we understand that everything that has transpired has made him better for it.

With the album standing at 16 tracks long, Keith’s music diverges a fair amount from the country music we’ve seen him record in the past…and maybe that’s a good thing. ‘Out the Cage’, driven by the banjo and written during the confines of quarantine, has Keith himself being reflective and reminding us all of the toll that quarantine that really taking on people during such a difficult time as this in 2020. Collaborating with Breland, a genre-fluid country-trap singer, and Nile Rodgers, an American guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer; ‘Out the Cage’ is an empowerment song, a reminder that even if quarantine does occur for quite some time yet, we won’t let it trap our souls and spirit. As Keith himself has expressed, ‘…in some ways, [‘Out the Cage’] is about quarantining and lockdown, but it’s also all kinds of oppression: dead end jobs, crap relationships, anywhere we’re limited or held back. Negativity and insecurity that holds us back, that’s all part of this song. And it’s ultimately about freeing yourself and how that feels…’ It is a reminder to ourselves, in a timely way, that freedom comes not necessarily from the physical, but its more about a mindset and an emotional and spiritual freedom that comes from peace that may not have been received had it not been for a trapping of some kind. For such a song as this is a reminder of the Bible, and how Paul, considered to be one of the highly impactful writers of the New Testament, wrote it from the confines of gaol- not a pretty place to be. But regardless of his physical restraints, what was seen by Paul is a freedom like no other- being able to write with such poetic imagery and heart, but still in prison, is something remarkable. This is certainly applied to Keith’s first song on the album- that the cages that we often need to break free of, aren’t the physical kind. ‘One Too Many’, a duet with singer-songwriter PINK, is also another standout on the album, and speaking about a subject matter that we often want to sweep under the rug- drinking excessively because of arguments that we don’t want to face, either in a couple/romantic situation, or just between people and friends. The song is a reminder that we as humans often try to bury our feelings, and that can arise in the form of a drink- alcohol of course. The song is sung from the persona of two people in a failing relationship, and we see the struggle in both these chracters in the song. ‘One Too Many’ challenges us all to not use drinking (or any other excuse to not fess up and have confrontational discussions) as a coping mechanism, but rather, it takes courage and guts to surrender and come back home, even if it means to face the music that you may have been running from, in the first place.

‘Superman’, an upbeat track with a corresponding part-live part-animated music video, showcases the story of a relationship unfortunately ending, and the persona fondly remembering the times when they were together, of how he felt like Superman during their time as a couple, while ‘Live With’ challenges us all to look at life in a different way because of this COVID-19 pandemic. Once life stops for a bit, our perspective changes, and hopefully, we can all realise that we have to live our lives to the full, with the people inside it that we know will make it worthwhile to live it. For if we live our lives well, with people that can challenge us and make us grow into better people because of the ‘breaking’ and the ‘struggle’, then something good has come out of such an ordeal like COVID-19. ‘Change Your Mind’ is a song of lament, a missed opportunity of a relationship currently broken, and a realisation that maybe, asking now for forgiveness and a second chance, maybe in fact be too late. Once you decide to change your mind and attitude, the other person could have changed theirs too and moved onto a different place and time in their life- emotive and heartfelt, yes, but still nevertheless sobering and compelling. ‘Forever’ is a whole ball of welcomed nostalgia, as this song makes us remember back to moments in our childhood where we defied the law as kids because we were curious, and just had fun with our friends in a way that makes teenagers during this time on their social media, look unfortunately depressing; while songs ‘Soul Food’ and ‘Ain’t it Like a Woman’, both showcase Keith’s own very personal love to his wife, Nicole Kidman. ‘Soul Food’ states that there’s nothing in the world that can satisfy other than his wife’s unconditional love and support- and that is ‘soul food’ to him, while ‘Ain’t It Like a Woman’, in a slow dancing melodic moment, shows of how his wife has constantly saved him and helped him overcome his rocky and at times, destructive pathway in life.

‘With You’, quite possibly the most pop melody Keith has ever done, is a song destined and primed for radio, if ever they decide to place this song on radio- either pop or country, it doesn’t matter. The song itself speaks of how people can move through life and overcome so much more when they’re in the presence of another, journeying through life together; while the songs ‘Tumbleweed’, ‘Better Than I Am’ and ‘We Were’ (one solo, one featuring country up-and-comer Eric Church) round out the album in true country fashion. ‘Tumbleweed’ is  harkening back musically to the 1990s country era, as Keith himself presents the theme of being together in life, or in the context of the song, being together when committing felonies and crimes and when you’re on the run; while ‘Better Than I Am’ is a moment of surrender, sort-of-like-a-spiritual moment, where Keith himself reminds us all that we aren’t as ‘good’ as we believe that we are- we stuff up and mess up and need second, third, maybe even a billion chances in this life. ‘Better Than I Am’ can hopefuilly challenge us all to be better people than we once were before, that any motivation for us to leave our difficult selves behind, is nothing short of God speaking through these songs to hopefully spur us onto positive change. ‘We Were’ is as reflective as they come, and written by Eric Church (who is on a version of the song) and a couple of other guys- not Keith; we see a story of a young romance flickering out, but still remembered fondly by the people involved in it. ‘We Were’ goes beyond just romance though, it is a reminder of the simplicity and the uncomplicatedness of youth and how we as adults sometimes become more jaded and cynical about things than we have to be.

Then there’s ‘Say Something’, a song that has actually stood out for me the most, on The Speed of Now Part 1. Standing at a tad below 3 minutes, the song speaks about this literal topic about speaking up and saying something when things need to be said. It is a call-to-action song, and that even though the song is titled ‘Say Something’, the theme of the track alludes to something along the lines of Matthew West’s ‘Do Something’- leaving the world a better place than when you found it, and standing up for the marginalised, the different, the downtrodden and the despondent. As Keith himself shares, ‘…I was raised in a house with a dad that was always like, ‘Shhh. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t talk about anything; say [it] in your music. And there’s a lot of truth in that, but there are times when we should be speaking up and saying something. We didn’t talk about anything and there was so many times we should have said something…my dad didn’t really live his truth to the fullest extent that I know he wished he could have — a product of his own raising. And I didn’t want to be like that, and I’m learning a lot about that in my family now…’ A song that really reminds us all to speak up when it is needed, as we are reminded that what we say and do matters; ‘Say Something’ challenges us all to look deep within ourselves and ask the question- what do I really believe about this issue or that, and why. ‘Say Something’ also reminds us all that in most cases, words aren’t enough- it is the actions of someone that will speak more volumes than just empty lip-service, but in this culture of silence and division, sometimes speaking up is what is needed to get the ball rolling into the realms of healthy discussion about topics that are taboo, but need to be talked about nonetheless.

Keith’s music has impacted a lot of people, and songs like ‘Somebody Like You’, ‘But for the Grace of God’, ‘Wasted Time’, ‘Days Go By’ and even Keith’s cover of Third Day’s ‘Call My Name’, have all been impactful and instrumental in my life of late, as we see the transformation of Keith from an exclusive country artist, to now becoming more of an everyday-artist, someone that can create songs of different genres, if needed, to meet people who enjoy various other musical styles, where they are at. Songs have the power to transcend culture, languages and even societal norms and expectations, but they can only do so if artists are willing to step outside their own comfort zones, and take risks and chances on songs, maybe even singing a song in a genre that they themselves may not feel comfortable in, just so that the message of positive change can be reached to someone across the globe. Keith has indeed managed to step outside of his own comfort zone, even moving from Australia to America at a younger age, to make such a dream happen. People’s lives are changed by music, and I’m sure Keith’s has changed a lot of people. Here’s hoping that his next album, whatever that may be, whenever that may be; can change people in a way that has never been seen before in his music.

Keith has been around for ages. And maybe he’ll continue to be. But regardless of what happens because of this coronavirus season, one thing is true, that music can still be active and changing people’s lives, long after the artist is active in the industry- it is true of artists like The Beatles, Queen, The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees; and it’ll be certainly true of Keith’s music, when all is said and done. The Speed of Now Part 1 is a different, unique album from Keith- the country undertone is near-gone, and replaced with a lot of pop-synth production, and while some country purists can often object to such a genre-change as this, Keith’s ability with the guitar, and his hear behind these songs, will always win out in the end. An album for any Keith Urban fan, full stop; The Speed of Now Part 1 is a welcomed album to listen to during a time which is COVID-19, as we’re reminded through these songs of the importance of family, friends and the connection between humans. Keith’s music has inspired so many people in albums past, and this album is no different. Well done Keith for such a down-to-earth album full of catchy and profound songs. Hoping that people are impacted by the album, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!

4 songs to listen to: Polaroid, One Too Many, We Were, Change Your Mind

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton

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