Recording information: 900 Room, Nashville, TN; Addiction Sound Studios, Nashville, TN; Can Am Studios, Tarzana, CA; Captain Cuts Studio, N. Hollywood, CA; Chumba Meadows, Los Angeles, CA; MXM Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Rocket Carousel Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Skeye Studio, Nashville, TN; Sound of Sterloid, Encino, CA; Westlake Studio, Hollywood, CA; Wolf Cousins Studios, Stockholm, Sweden.
Keith Urban never claimed to be a country traditionalist, so when he decided to gild his country-pop in electronics and lite R&B rhythms on 2016's Ripcord, it didn't feel unnatural: it was an extension of his expansive worldview. Ripcord quietly outsold its predecessor, the assured 2013 set Fuse, so it's no surprise that Urban doubles down on modernity on 2018's Graffiti U. Gleaming bright and rolling easy, Graffiti U deliberately engages with the world as it exists in 2018, grounded in elastic EDM-inflected grooves, openhearted and socially aware, cognizant of tradition but focused on the future. Urban might salute the late, great Merle Haggard by sampling the riff to "Mama Tried" on "Coming Home," but it's cut and twisted so only Hag fans could recognize its tell-tale twang. Similarly, "Texas Time" tips its hat to the late, great Don Williams' signature "Tulsa Time," but its laid-back shuffle is buffed and shined with electronics, so the nod can only be spotted by those who are steeped in country's history. Urban knows his roots but realizes he's not living in the past, which is what gives Graffiti U its slick kick -- particularly on the record's preponderance of sunny, shiny midtempo radio numbers -- but he can sometimes be undone by his instincts to be a modern man, especially whenever he's trying to address complicated sexual politics. "Female," the album's first single, is an attempt to pledge solidarity with the #MeToo movement, yet it stumbles upon its earnestness. "Gemini" is intended as praise to a complex woman but the misbegotten refrain "She's a maniac in the bed/But a brainiac in her head" derails its disco, since it suggests the narrator isn't as enlightened as he believes. Embarrassing as that may be, it's a mere misstep on an album that's ambitious and largely accomplished, existing right on the edge of adult pop and country in 2018. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rolling Stone - "The Australian country star touches on everything from reggae-country, Eighties dance-rock, lite-FM power ballads, and muscular Top 40 on an album that manages to interpolate melodies and riffs from both Merle Haggard and Coldplay."