Musicians striving to maintain their career over the long haul face a tricky catch-22: balancing the need to keep things fresh (so fans won't reject new material as the same old same old) while ensuring that said freshening doesn't change things too much (so fans won't reject new material for diverging too radically from what they've come to know and love).
You can almost feel Keith Urban walking this musical tightrope on his eighth studio effort, Fuse. On one hand, his familiar, rock-infused country sound is very much intact. On the other, it seems as if his continuing stint in the judge's chair on American Idol has broadened his musical horizons. Fuse sports an unmistakable pop sheen as Urban appropriates rhythms and sounds we're more used to hearing in R&B and even electronic dance music.
After exploring some new musical paths, however, he then takes a left turn down a dusty rural lane that ends up in some maddeningly familiar country territory.
"Raise 'Em Up" commands fans to salute beloved family members and soldiers who've passed on. The song poignantly describes a soldier's funeral ("Black umbrellas in the pourin' rain/A Sunday morning come down/'Amazing Grace'/Lift those tear-filled eyes up to the sky/As the flag flies, say good-bye"). The song also celebrates new beginnings as it swiftly chronicles a couple meeting, falling in love and having babies (though marriage isn't specifically mentioned): "So you meet someone/The only one/You take her by the hand/Make a stand/Make some love/And babies come."
On "Shame," a less-than-perfect man tries to take responsibility for his weaknesses and flaws in the process of suggesting that everyone has some of each. He also suggests that burying shame and pretending everything is OK when it's not isn't a healthy way to live: "What a shame/That we're hiding beneath our skin/And we're scared of letting somebody in/Nobody showed us how to live."
Innocent infatuation gushes from "Love's Poster Child" ("Ain't nothin' else on my mind when I see that pretty smile/ … Somethin' 'bout you make my heart run wild/You're love's poster child"). "Come Back to Me" finds a heartbroken man telling the wayward love of his life that she's free to go … but insisting that she's always welcome to come back if she has second thoughts. "Heart Like Mine" involves "a headstrong man" pursuing a woman who's left him and insisting, "Can I be a better man? Yeah, I know I could." "Good Thing" tells a woman, "A girl like you should have the best of everything/Like someone to treat you right." Elsewhere on that track, the song's narrator realizes he's making the same mistakes his verbally abusive father did—but he's determined to do better.
Fuse's smoldering first track, "Somewhere in My Car," involves a man reminiscing about sex with a woman (who's now left him, it turns out) in his car. And more automotive coitus gets consummated on "Red Camaro" with only the half-hearted disclaimer, "Maybe it's wrong, but it looks like we don't care/It feels right, yeah, it feels so right." Then, as if we haven't already heard enough about vehicular copulation, Urban teams up with Miranda Lambert on "We Were Us" to sing, "Shotgun sunset/A cool mint kiss/Backseat promise/Breaking it/Floorboard feeling/County lines/God, I miss when you were mine." (That misuse of God's name is repeated three times.) Oh, but he's still not done. "Even the Stars Fall 4 U" boasts these lines about how it feels when a guy and his gal go parking late at night in his beloved truck: "I never counted on your touch/Making me want you so much/I never dreamed that your sweet lips/Could make me feel like this."
Note that the generally positive salutes "Raise 'Em Up" asks for involve raised lighters and/or drinks. And a bit more profanity, paired with mildly suggestive lyrics, creep onto "Love's Poster Child" as Keith croons, "D‑‑n, girl, you make me feel so free/Like a summer sun shining down on me/And we're flying so high and good lord, we ain't even trying/ … Taking me to place I've never been." Two more uses of "d‑‑n" turn up on "Heart Like Mine."
"Little Bit of Everything" and "Good Thing" also reference drinking and bars, with one adding in references to cigarettes and cigars. "Shame" mentions "all the lovers that I hurt." "Cop Car" laughs along with a young couple whose relationship deepens after they get arrested for trespassing. (They were sitting on a tailgate watching planes take off and land at a local airport.)
Keith Urban's 2010 effort Get Closer largely eschewed go-to country tropes about truckin', sexin' and drinkin'. In my review, I went so far as describing its songs as "fun-loving, up-tempo country rockers and ballads that'll leave even stouthearted country fans with a tear in their eye—a very sweet thing indeed."
The proceedings this time around lean less sweet and more carnal. Despite some nice moments on Fuse, there's quite a lot of sex here, with three or four songs taking the time to detail that activity taking place in a car (or truck). Add in suggestive whispers like, "Maybe it's wrong, but it looks like we don't care/It feels right, yeah, it feels so right," and we know exactly where the cord of this Fuse leads.