The Speed of Now Part 1 (18 September 2020; Hit Red, Universal and Capitol) is the eleventh studio album by Keith Urban, and has already hit number 1 in Australia and number 7 on the US Billboard charts.
Country music is in Urban’s blood, as his father used to play him Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash when he was a child, and took him to see the Man in Black when he was just five years old. “It was a wild scene. My dad bought my brother and I our first little Western shirts with little bolo ties. We looked the part,” he says. However as Urban has aged, like Taylor Swift, he has increasingly been influenced by pop, and this album also contains ample pop-tinged examples of R&B, electronic, folk and soul.
The opener, banjo-driven Out The Cage presents Breland [of My Truck fame] and legend Nile Rodgers [who has described Urban as being ‘like a lost brother’], and is a good example of this shift of focus. The track could almost be described as a lockdown anthem: “I miss my friends, I miss the sky,” Urban sings . “In some ways, [it] is about quarantining and lockdown…” he confirms, “but it’s also about all kinds of oppression: dead end jobs, crap relationships, anywhere we are limited or held back.”
Pop superstar P!nk features on One Too Many, which is about a couple questioning their relationship.“When this song came along, I heard her voice in my head,” explains Urban. “I sent it to her with my fingers crossed — and she loved it. The next thing I knew I’m hearing her voice on the track.” The result is a fun song and an entertaining video, in which it looks like Urban switches from a Gibson acoustic to one of his Strats, despite floating in the sea on a sofa...
The breezy Superman is a highly catchy romantic track, which is followed by the ballad Change Your Mind, a song about self-sabotage. “Emotionally stranded, left you abandoned, took you for granted, If we could only fix the little issues before they got too big,” Urban sings.
Later, on Say Something, the New Zealand-born singer encourages people to speak up rather than ‘trying to be diplomatic’. This is obviously a very personal number as Urban sings: “I don’t want to be like my father was, scared to rock the boat, never speaking up, I want to live my truths wide open.” Urban credits his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, with helping him speak out more. Touchingly, his love for his wife is reiterated in the next track, Soul Food, which is another high-quality track featuring Breland; and again on the blues-driven Ain’t It Like a Woman, in which he says that Kidman has always had his back: “I know I’m a better man since she came,” he sings.
The anthemic crowd-pleaser With You is paired with the pre-released Tumbleweed, which sees Urban return to his much-loved Country roots. These are followed by the second single release, God Whispered Your Name, which is a cheery number about hope and new beginnings. Several versions are already available on Youtube but perhaps the most interesting is a live performance on 16 March 2020, on which Urban shines on his Les Paul, while Kidman dances and laughs out loud alongside him.
The ‘final track’, the ballad We Were, was the early first single, released on 13 May 2019, and features two versions on the album; the latter featuring co-writer Eric Church. “I love that song,” Urban explains. “I’ve known Eric a long time and it’s the second collaboration we’ve done together. We are kindred spirits. I’d already recorded my version when I called him and asked if we could do a version together and so he came in on one of his rare days off.”
Urban is reportedly already envisaging The Speed Of Now Part 2, which one suspects will see him further expand his fanbase and establish his credentials as an artist who happily crosses many different genres. The singer sums it up in two words in explanation of his new life-affirming musical philosophy: “Let’s explore!”