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Album Spotlight: Keith Urban, ‘Fuse’ – ToC Critic’s Pick

Fuse
EMI Nashville

‘Fuse’ is a fine title for Keith Urban‘s seventh studio album, but ‘Short Fuse’ might be even better. There’s very little to burn before one gets to the heart of this explosion of energy set to a modern country beat. The collection of 13 songs is the singer’s least traditional offering to date, but few will complain about that.

Fans of Urban’s hits like ‘Better Life,’ ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Kiss a Girl’ are going to dig what the 45-year-old is doing on this high-powered project. He pushes his sound further into the souped-up direction country curmudgeons love to complain about, although there’s plenty of acoustic and banjo to be found. More than one track is proud to be pop. At least one other — ‘Come Back to Me’ — sounds like something Moby would have cut 10 years ago.

“Energy” is the key word. ‘Somewhere in My Car’ sets the tempo, but ‘Even the Stars Fall 4 U’ is a more representative thin slice of ‘Fuse.’ There’s an ’80s vibe to this production, aided by the cheerleader shouts of “Hey” and a guitar lick borrowed from Blondie or the Bangles. ‘Cop Car’ doesn’t slow things down. This is a new role for Urban, and he takes a chance with a lyric that could have sounded like a Cledus T. Judd throwaway:

You were so innocent, but you were stealing my heart / I fell in love in the back of a cop car,” Urban sings during this ballad. The whole thing works. In fact, there are some really sweet emotions sprinkled in between the lighter moments of this happy story.

In the past, some of Urban’s best songs have come after he’s fallen and scraped his knees. There’s not much blood on the pavement here, until the album’s closing track, ‘Heart Like Mine.’ ‘Raise ‘Em Up’ — a duet with Eric Church — also lets fans into his world. The performance is an unexpected one from two country boys with rock roots.

So you meet someone, the only one/ You take her by the hand and stand, buy some land, make some love and babies come / Raise ‘em up / Raise ‘em up,” they sing to end this soft-spoken, organic moment.

Credit Urban for taking controlled risks on ‘Fuse.’ He pushes himself just to the edge of what his fans and country radio will accept, and the result is something that is innovative and original on every level. This is the type of album one wants their superstars to make. It’s an album that should put him back in the conversation for Entertainer of the Year considerations.

Tracks to Remember: ‘Even the Stars Fall 4 U,’ ‘We Were Us,’ ‘Raise ‘Em Up’

Did You Know?: One way to shake things up is to drop your longtime producer. Dann Huff had been in charge of the last five Keith Urban albums, but the singer used 10 separate producers to create the sounds on ‘Fuse.’ Huff did co-produce the album’s opening track, ‘Somewhere in My Car.’

Next: The Best Country Albums of 2013 So Far

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