Keith Urban has no hesitation in saying his current release, “Graffiti U,” is not a country album. Fact is, Urban says, it’s not any particular type of album.
“I didn’t want to present any particular genre,” Urban said recently. “I wasn’t trying to make a pop album. I wasn’t trying to make a country album. I was just trying to make a ‘me album’ in 2018.”
And a “me album” at that point in time meant reflecting on the kind of music that Urban currently is drawn to and finding ways to take those influences and come out with songs that felt authentic to him.
In fact, Urban said he titled the album “Graffiti U” because he sees graffiti as a pure form of expression, and he wanted to experience that sort of unfiltered freedom and creativity as he wrote and recorded the album.
In the process, he came up with an album that’s diverse musically and feels quite effortless, breezy and, yes, spontaneous.
The opening track, “Coming Home” (a recent Top 5 on “Billboard” magazine’s Country Airplay chart), sets the tone for the rest of “Graffiti U,” according to Urban. The song mixes folk with banjo and other acoustic instruments, pop with its warm melody and a bit of hip-hop in the cadence of Julia Michael’s vocal and the song’s programmed percussion.
“I like the fusion of all the elements that came together on that song,” Urban said. “It felt like that was a good, broad entry into the rest of the album.”
Other songs are just as stylistically blended, with “Top Down” inserting the kind of shout-along chorus heard in songs like Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Hand Clap” within a spunky, pop-rock tune, or “Never Coming Down” (which went Top 20 on the Country Airplay chart) bringing together Mumford & Sons-ish country-folk, hip-hop and a funky bass line. There’s a good bit of R&B in the sweet ballad “Parallel Line.” “My Wave” is a beachy song that’s equal parts pop, hip-hop and light folk. “Love The Way It Hurts (So Good)” brings some EDM touches into this decidedly modern-sounding track.
The amalgam of styles heard within “Graffiti U” puts the album right in step with the way many current country artists are incorporating pop, hip-hop and other genres into their music.
As such, Urban seems to be navigating the latest trends in country just as easily as he has worked through the various shifts that have occurred in country during the previous two decades.
A native of New Zealand, Urban, 51, has seen each of his previous eight solo albums go gold or platinum and produce a steady stream of hit singles. In all, he has notched nearly 40 hit singles, 18 of which have gone to No. 1.
Urban’s personal life is going just as well as his career. Things have been especially good since he married actress Nicole Kidman in 2006. He kicked his addiction to alcohol (with Kidman’s help) and started a family that now includes two young girls. The couple celebrated their 13th anniversary in June, and Urban had little trouble explaining why their marriage is thriving.
“Well, first of all she’s my favorite person to be around. I love, love, love her company. I love every part of her company,” he said. “That’s really the first thing. I want to be around her all the time, talk to her and listen to her. We’re just very, very simpatico as personalities, the two of us. I think that’s key. I loved being around her when I first met her, and doing every and anything with her when I first met her. And that hasn’t changed. That feels exactly the same as it did the first week we started going out.”
Another secret to the relationship is that Urban and Kidman put their relationship ahead of their careers and find ways to spend as much time together as possible.
“Like if she’s shooting out in California … we just relocate out there, even if it’s in a rented place, or a hotel, wherever it is. We just go as a family, the four of us,” Urban said. “Obviously, if I’m on tour, I go to where the show is and then I go back to wherever she and the girls are, so that we stay together.”
There will be plenty of trips to various tour stops and family locations over the next several months as Urban plays a healthy selection of concerts this summer, including an 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, stop at Hard Rock Atlantic City. The dates come as he has started work on a new album and has released a new single “We Were.” He said his hit-filled show still aims to reinforce the themes of the “Graffiti U” album.
“I think if there’s a theme to this album and a want for this tour it’s to inspire a confidence in each person to just express who they are and how they feel, and not feel like they have to apologize for it or make excuses for it or filter it in any way or change it to suit anybody’s expectations,” Urban said. “It’s just an absolutely natural, unapologetic form of expression. That’s what the album is. It’s very much what the tour is.
“And if people feel that way in listening to the music and seeing the show, then I think I’ve done my job.”