The Fuse, Keith Urban's first album in three years, delivers a slicker, more sophisticated version of his solitary demo recording process as a radical sounding change in direction. Throughout, he melds drum machines, synths and samplers with his guitars, banjos, mandolins and voice. Urban's experience as a judge on American Idol also contributes to his song and production choices--he's heard enough commercial pop to know what works. If ever a contemporary country record was strategically created to crossover, this is it. Recorded in California and Nashville, Urban employed a slew of co-producers, songwriters, and co-writers. The set's clever first single, "Little Bit Of Everything" with its punchy handclaps, hip hop rhythms and pulsing synth, underscores his banjo and stinging guitar; his voice accents the hook and rings clear above it all. "Even The Stars Fall 4 U," is introduced by thrumming, brittle loops, enormous handclaps, a nasty guitar vamp, and a chorus shouting "Hey!" Though the banjo-drenched melody is subtler, the anthemic chorus explodes. The muted drum loop that fuels the shimmering "Cop Car," is layered in atmospherics worthy of Achtung Baby, but the melody is pure country. Miranda Lambert duets on what initially appears to be the purest country tune on the set, but that's a feint as well. The chorus is pure pop, with crisscrossing cut-time rhythms accenting the end of every line. The layered, mid tempo ballad, "Shame" was co-written and co-produced by the Norwegian hip hop/ R&B team Stargate, with synths hovering through the loop-saturated backdrop. Another ballad, "Come Back To Me," co-produced by Urban and Butch Walker, is deeply indebted to Daniel Lanois' warm-as-bathwater production style, with subdued sopnics, edgeless rhythms, rounded and heavily reverbed guitars and keys. Only his voice is crystalline. The hook is less pronounced but ever present, with a restrained dynamic slowly building to a climax. Contrast this with "Red Camaro," with its rattling banjo, bright, 90s-era drum loop, zig-zagging synths, a fiddle that sounds like an outtake from Dexy's Too-Rye-Aye, and a crisp meld of acoustic and electric guitars under Urban's multi-tracked (and perhaps pitch-enhanced) vocals. The numerous production dimensions here sometimes mask this set's almost uniformly good songs---the muddied textures that overshadow "Raise 'Em Up"--an otherwise fine duet with Eric Church. The set finishes strong with the "Heart Like Mine," another galloping anthem whose rhythmic punch and cadence sound like they came from Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." For all the piecemeal recording, technological obsession and sheer ambition on the Fuse, Urban manages to fashion it all into a (mostly) working whole and maintain his identity as a contemporary country artist, even as he reaches for the mainstream pop fences. ~ Thom Jurek
Rolling Stone (p.86) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The date-gone-wrong 'Cop Car' is a marvel of Music Row story compression with sneaky R&B flow..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.73) - "The result is sonically exploratory..."