There's a moment at the end of "If Ever I Could Love," a fairly pedestrian, mid-tempo ballad on Keith Urban's new album, "Defying Gravity ," when Urban layers his vocals and the syncopated percussion that has been driving the song kicks in. It all combines for a glorious interlude that sends the song soaring. Sadly, those times on "Defying Gravity" are rare.
It's not a bad album-far from it. It just feels safe and far too restrained for someone with Urban's talents. The simple fact is that Urban has set such a high standard for himself that he falls short by his own yardstick when measured against such past albums as "Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing" and "Be Here." Hits like "Stupid Boy," "Days Go By," "You'll Think of Me" and "Making Memories of Us" didn't sound like anything else on the radio at the time.
Urban has few weak spots: he's a blazing guitarist, a strong songwriter and an expressive vocalist. But on "Defying Gravity," he hides his light under a bushel; he never really lets loose with the explosive guitar playing that makes his live show such an adventure. The whole album is a pretty slick affair with few rough edges and it sounds polished within an inch of its life.
Opening track (and new single), "Kiss a Girl," has nothing on Katy Perry and her lip-locking fantasy of the closely similar name. Urban's tune is surely meant to be sweetly innocent, but he's 41 so it just seems a little strange when he's singing "don't want to go that far" or clumsy when he says "Are you ready to cross that line/put your lips on mine."
First single (and his 10th No. 1) "Sweet Thing" is sprightly and upbeat. It's the kind of song that Urban can do in his sleep at this point. Most of the songs, such as these two, are about love and being in it, not running from it or hiding from it and, in some cases, falling out of it. He's downright treacly on "Only You Can Love Me This Way," but the lyrics hint at his tough times in rehab. He sings "I could have turned another corner/I could have gone another place," but love pulls him through.
The best song on the album is the beautiful, wistful "'Til Summer Comes Around," which is marked by subtle guitar lines and an almost "Boys of Summer" mood.
"Defying Gravity" is a worthy entry in Urban's canon, but I can't help but wish he'd followed the album title a little bit more closely and attempted to take flight a few more times.