Keith Urban takes the title of the first song, "Out the Cage," on his 11th album literally—a plea for breaking free from oppression and boredom, it's also a silky disco track that expands the country singer's horizons by roping in Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers and rapper Breland. Urban has said that around a third of The Speed of Now Part I was written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, and it seems to have emboldened him to throw a few curveballs.
He also surprises with electronic rhythms on "Forever" and trap beats on "Say Something. "Tumbleweed" serves up '70s country-rock sass that suits Urban well. And the finger-snapping, Jason Mraz-esque "One Too Many" is an irresistible duet with Pink that makes a solid case for the pop singer to record a country record herself.
But for the most part, the album is Urban doing what's made him a star: mid-tempo numbers, and the occasional ballad, about chasing love, memories and a better life. His voice cracks in all the right places on "Live With," an inspirational ode to dreaming big ("I'd rather live a life I can learn with, swerve with, twist and turn with, take a 90-mile-an-hour curve with"). The metaphor of fast curves is a theme, in fact, popping up again on the catchy "Superman", along with blazing guitar and a healthy dose of rose-colored hindsight: "We were Johnny and June in a ring of fire."
The last quarter of the album really shines. "God Whispered Your Name" gives FM-radio soft rock a good name, with its moody organ, lush chorus and appealingly cheesy lyrics ("When God whispered your name, that's when everything changed, love came out of the rain, talk about being saved").The bubbly "Polaroid" feels as effervescent as a Miller High Life, while piano ballad "Better Than I Am" is a swooning thing of torchy beauty.
Early single "We Were" presents an odd-couple pairing that works incredibly well. Written by modern outlaw Eric Church, it delves into the Americana nostalgia he loves: leather jackets and Harleys, feet hanging out over the edge of a water tower, lighter in the air for "Pour Some Sugar on Me". When the two singers trade verses— Urban's sweet slickness up against Church's bad-boy scruff—it's kind of magic.
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