It's been said that the best songs come from heartbreak. Somehow, though, I think you'd have a hard time arguing that with Keith Urban. His music career was already starting to take off when he met his future wife, Nicole Kidman in 2005, but following their marriage in 2006, it has truly hit the pop and country stratosphere.
Even the album titles reflect his mindset since they've come together: Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing; Defying Gravity and now, Get Closer. One by one, each album has continued to dig deeper and celebrate infatuation, love and relationships more than standard pop or country anthems of heartbreak and hurt.
When Get Closer was released last November, it followed five consecutive platinum or multi-platinum albums, the previous two of which topped the Billboard pop album charts. With 26 "Top 5" hits, including 12 #1 singles, Urban is an undeniable superstar, crossing back and forth between the pop and country genres. With his latest disc, Get Closer, however, Urban continued to push himself in new directions.
"On Defying Gravity (released in 2009) I started touching upon the theme of the courage to love," he has said. "It's all well and good to say 'I can't find anybody to love, I wish I could find someone to love,' but do I have the courage to love? Am I willing to open my heart and give the sword to my partner and go 'All right, I trust you, absolutely and completely?'"
That's the theme he continued to expand upon with the new disc, as he explained "For me the title is multi-faceted, because my instincts have always been to run from things that are good for me, to run from love. I have always run from intimacy and marriage has been a real awakening for me in looking at that very differently. That's what the title refers to."
Although Urban is known as a country artist, at his core, he's truly simply a great songwriter. That doesn't mean he's not open to outside sources, however. Of the eight tracks on the new disc, Urban is a co-writer on four of them. Those songs are easy to tell as his signature guitar and soaring vocal choruses stand out from the other tracks. Even so, one of the most telling songs on the disc is one that he didn't have a hand in writing.
"Without You," written by Dave Pahanish and Joe West is the set-piece song on the disc that Urban delivers with such honesty that you'd think it was one of his own. Fans responded to the song immediately, making it his twelfth #1 single earlier this year.
He explained his connection to the song by sharing, "'Without You' really is my life story... It's crazy -- the fast cars and the guitars and the little girl coming along. It's just an amazing song, but I never would have allowed myself to write it."
That vulnerability and honesty is what has launched his career to superstar levels, however. Even if it's not a song he has written, he still delivers it like it's one of his own and the fans respond accordingly. As much as he's known as a songwriter, however, Urban is also known as an amazing guitarist and phenomenal performer, having won the Country Music Association "Entertainer of the Year" award in 2005 with subsequent nominations in the same category.
The current tour continues to build on the rapport Urban has already built with his audience while also extending the "Get Closer" theme to his live show. Security barriers in front on the stage have been removed on this tour with ramps on the left and right sides of the stage in place, making it easy for Urban to enter the crowd as he plays and sings, making the performance even more personal for the fans.
As in the past, he also has a smaller stage placed in the middle of the audience in order to play a few songs from a different vantage point. In an extension of what has become a tradition, urban customarily finishes his set and hands off his guitar to a lucky member of the crowd.
In explaining how this came about, Urban has shared that when he began playing in the middle of the audience a few years ago, getting out to the stage was always easy because the audience wasn't expecting it. Returning to the main stage amidst a throng of people proved more difficult, however, as they enclosed around him. One night, in order to make it easier to get back to the stage, he handed off the guitar he was playing to someone in the audience. "I found it very liberating," he shared, and has made a practice of it ever since.
It's just that air of approachability that has made Urban so popular amongst both country and pop music fans. His genuine attitude, when matched with phenomenal musicianship and strong songwriting make for a winning combination, especially when delivered in concert with top notch lights and sound.
In the end, however, Urban's focus is clear and it all boils down to the sentiment expressed in "Without You," the overall theme of Get Closer. While the current North American tour extends over four months, his routing never schedules him to play over four nights consecutively, often giving 2-4 days off between shows to fly home and spend time with his wife and kids.
Just like the song says: "The travelin', the singin', It don't mean nothin' without you -- The fast cars, the guitars, they are all just second to this life, this love that you and I have been dreaming of for so long..."
So long as Urban keeps his focus, his star will continue to rise. You can witness it yourself when the Get Closer tour arrives at BOK Center this Thursday night, August 18.
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