Keith Urban’s “Ripcord”

Keith Urban’s “Ripcord” – Spotify

It’s not country.

But the picking on the opening track, “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today),” reminds me of one of my favorite Urban cuts, “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” which starts off on a tear and then explodes, a veritable zero to sixty run down the highway that thrills you as you hold on to your hat. The verses are generic, but this predates bro country, and the chorus is so spectacular you can’t help but smile and sing along, you know those moments when your life is perfect and you wouldn’t change a thing, “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me” encapsulates that, and when I’m not vying for the role of the Prince of Darkness I like to live in the land of elation. “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” is not quite as good, but although slower it’s got a similar energy, like Urban is fully aware of his powers and is refusing to hold back, you want to go along for the ride. Let this be a lesson, if the best track is not first, at least make the opener a killer, learn from the Rolling Stones.

And there is a ganjo on “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today),” but if you excised that the track would not make you think of Nashville whatsoever.

And I wanted to listen to “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” again, that’s when you know you’re hooked, but I let the album play, to see what other goodies were contained on “Ripcord.”

I skipped “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” last year’s hit single, I never cottoned to it, but it did make it to number two on the country chart.


“Wasted Time” is closer to EDC than Fan Fair. With electronic pulsing that can’t help but bring your blood to a boil. They say EDM is dead, but it’s about as gone as disco, which didn’t disappear but ultimately infiltrated rock. We love the beat and we love the pulse and “Wasted Time” is throbbing and you’re along for the ride from the get-go. And if the lyrics weren’t so generic, so pedestrian, you’d put “Wasted Time” in the summer song canon. As it is, you can’t help but throw your hands in the air in exaltation… If only the lyrics were as realistic and engaging as those of Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long.” Maybe Rock was right all along, that it’s about merging the old with the new, the rock with the country, because until you get to the break you’d be hard-pressed to call “Wasted Time” a country song. If Top Forty weren’t so afraid of breaking the formula they’d have a field day with this, because we all love an airy, happy summer song.

But then comes the piece-de-resistance, “Habit Of You,” which is closer to Hall & Oates than Brooks & Dunn. It’s almost like when the Doobie Brothers moved to the mainstream with “Minute By Minute,” put this on when you’re lying on the couch with your honey sipping wine, reflecting and contemplating getting frisky.

I could make a habit of you
Waking up in my bed
Staying up till two
‘Cause you’re stuck in my head

Whew! The story of my life, all the good things happen late at night, when the world stops intruding and you can get down to it.

And country is playing “Wasted Time,” even though it’s closer to Hot AC, there’s no twang involved, this is mainstream music.

And that’s where Keith Urban lives, on the Australian “Voice” and the American “Idol.” Moving to the mainstream for the paycheck and the attention, Urban ultimately delivered an LP to appeal to this audience, albeit hedging his bets. There are just enough country elements involved not to alienate the Nashville powers, he didn’t pull the full Taylor Swift, but he did work with Nile Rodgers, why not Max Martin, was he unavailable?

And Martin was originally a metalhead and Urban was a rocker and we live in a land of mish-mash where rock and country and EDM all fit under the same umbrella, because the world is smaller than ever before, if you’re paying attention you know all the hits, not only those in your genre. And having said that, the Rodgers track, “Sun Don’t Let Me Down,” featuring Pitbull, is execrable. Reminds me of when the Beach Boys went disco with “Here Comes The Night.” Go all the way or don’t go at all, otherwise you look like you’re dabbling, following trends, and the greats either jump feet first, like Neil Young, who is not married to the past, or they remain true blue to what got them here, like AC/DC.

And I’d like to tell you the rest of the album is incredible, but it’s closer to mediocre. “Gettin’ In The Way” is another one of those cuts that country radio might play but is really much more pop, it doesn’t have the signifying instrumentation that shows it’s from Nashville, it’s more MTV than CMT.

“Blue Ain’t Your Color”‘s got the feel of country, the old country, pre-Luke Bryan, more akin to the sixties than the twenty first century. But, it’s reminiscent of fifties pop just as much. And it’s good, but it’s not great.

“The Fighter” features Carrie Underwood, but that’s the only country thing about it. It’s more Kenny Loggins than Kenny Rogers, with a bit of “Flashdance” thrown in, but it’s too paint by numbers.

“Boy Gets A Truck” resonates sonically, but the lyrics are so pedestrian, winking so much at present day Nashville, that you wince. Still, this is more Red Rider than Red Headed Stranger. If Tom Cochrane changed the chorus he could have had a hit with it way back when.

“That Could Still Be Us” hearkens back to the sensibility of classic country but sounds like it not a whit. There’s the yearning, but not the instrumentation. And if Urban were judging the track on one of his TV shows he’d give it a solid B, but we’re looking for A’s.

And “Wasted Time” and “Habit Of You” are solid B pluses or A minuses, they’re close, but no cigar. And we’re looking to partake of the elixir of excellence.

And it arrives now and again. Justin Bieber has hit the peaks recently. Justin Timberlake and the Chili Peppers are close. But we want Lorde’s “Royals” or Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” and there’s none of that on “Ripcord,” which is too long and plays it too safe at the same time it’s testing limits, but it is better than the dreck Keith Urban has been purveying recently in search of hits, ending up with music neither fish nor fowl.

So, what we’ve learned is the barriers are breaking down. Acts are taking risks, especially in country, they’re including raps, electronic elements, despite the bro lyrics and too much rote there are new sonic ingredients, and that’s a good thing.

If you’re a fan and buy “Ripcord” you’ll be satisfied. You won’t be overwhelmed, but you’ll be glad to go to the show and hear these songs live.

And if you’re from Nashville you’re gonna wonder if Keith was ever one of you, or was he an Aussie infiltrator who needs to be excommunicated.

But if you’re a student of the game, you’re gonna find “Ripcord” very interesting. Because you’re gonna see a guy taking chances and sometimes succeeding. And hopefully you’ll be inspired and jump completely off the cliff.

We’re waiting for you.

YouTube links:

“Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)

“Wasted Time”

“Habit Of You”

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