Keith Urban continues to push genre lines on The Speed of Now Part 1. The 16-track project, out Sept. 18, is the follow-up to Urban’s 2018 genre-bending No. 1 album Graffiti U. On The Speed of Now Part 1, the two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year and Academy of Country Music Awards host is found exploring diverse soundscapes and lyrical concepts tailor-fit for the current times.
Banjo-driven opening track “Out the Cage” was written in quarantine and has Urban lamenting of the current coronavirus pandemic alongside features by Breland and Nile Rodgers. “I miss my friends … Feel like I just live to die/ But that can’t be what life’s about,” he sings on the first verse.
“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,” Urban says. “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.”
In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Urban admits that he didn’t transition smoothly into lockdown. Eventually, though, he got up off the couch and put all his energy into finishing the album during the pandemic.
“There’s a chunk of this record — probably a good third of it — that wouldn’t have happened without what we went through,” he tells CBS Sunday Morning. “I had 70% of the record finished so some of these songs came because of the times, from the times, and were even created during that period as well.”
While Covid-19 has made its way into the project, Urban’s positivity and memorable love songs also take a front seat. Tracks like the uplifting “Soul Food” have Urban singing of how nothing satiates his appetite like his wife’s love while the bluesy “Ain’t It Like a Woman” shines a light how Nicole Kidman always has his back and has saved him from his rocky past. “I know I’m a better man since she came,” he croons on the latter alongside ear-grabbing percussion, soaring electric guitar and mesmerizing vocals. Later, on “Say Something,” he urges listeners to speak up and rock the boat instead of staying silent. “And yes I know words ain’t enough but when the silence becomes so dangerous/ We gotta say something, say something, say something,” he warns.
Urban’s inventive production style shines on arena-ready “With You” with hand-snapped rhythms and an anthemic chorus as well as the feel-good barn burner “Tumbleweed.” Meanwhile, recent country radio singles like the uplifting “God Whispered Your Name” and heartfelt “We Were,” featuring Eric Church, further prove the singer as a mainstay within the genre and on the charts.
Album standouts include “One Too Many” featuring P!nk and soaring piano and guitar ballad “Better Than I Am,” which Urban collaborated with Eg White (Adele) on in London. On “One Too Many,” Urban and P!nk play the role of a couple questioning their relationship alongside spellbinding harmonies while Urban’s emotive voice is highlighted best on the confessional “Better Than I Am” as he openly sings of his flaws.
“I started talking about swimming to keep from drowning and Eg said, ‘I think that’s the opening line,’ and off we went,” Urban says of writing “Better Than I Am.” “Confessing my flaws, failings and mistakes, but being okay with them and striving to be a better person. This song was about capturing that.” On The Speed of Now Part 1, Urban shares a glimpse into his struggles with quarantine while offering a much needed musical escape for listeners. One of the most inventive acts in the genre, Urban continues to experiment with his sound and, as a result, gives country fans the most diverse country project of 2020.