For Keith Urban’s sixth studio album, Get Closer, the singer-songwriter dives even deeper into the explorations of love and relationships that have established him as one of the world's biggest country music stars—while also extending his rock & roll side, as his hard-charging guitar work reaches new heights. The album is the follow-up to 2009's Grammy-winning and platinum selling Defying Gravity, which entered Billboard's pop and country charts at Number One, and spun off five Top Ten hits, including the chart-toppers "Sweet Thing" and "Only You Can Love Me This Way."
For Urban, the songs on the new album build on ideas that he introduced the last time around. "On Defying Gravity I started touching upon the theme of the courage to love," he says. "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?' ”
The ambition for Get Closer is made explicit right on the cover. "The title is multifaceted," says Urban, "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 really refers to."
New Zealand-born and Australia-raised, Keith Urban moved to Nashville in 1992. His first American album came as a member of The Ranch (1997), followed by an increasingly accomplished series of multi Platinum-selling solo albums: Keith Urban (1999), Golden Road (2002), Be Here (2004), and Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing (2006). The compilation Greatest Hits: 19 Kids (2008) included such Number One hits as “But For The Grace Of God,” “Somebody Like You” (which was named the top country song of the decade), “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” “You’ll Think Of Me,” “Days Go By,” “Making Memories Of Us,” “Better Life,” and “You Look Good In My Shirt.”
Urban has been honored with Grammy Awards, Country Music Association Awards, Academy of County Music Awards, a People’s Choice Award, American Music Award and Australia’s coveted Aria Award. His remarkable musical gifts have also brought him to places where country superstars have rarely gone before, including such very recent appearances as a blazing rendition of the Rolling Stones' classic "Tumblin' Dice" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a powerful rendition of "Lean on Me" alongside Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow on the Hope for Haiti telethon and a CMT Crossroads taping with John Mayer.
Yet as Get Closer illustrates, rather than rely on formula, Urban continues to innovate with his music. The sound of the album expands the contrast between old and new styles that has underpinned much of his previous work. "I love using drum machines when I write," he says, " and I love the juxtaposition of a great, funky '80s drum machine with a banjo. Merging those instruments together was something I was really drawn to—we got to a certain point on the record, but I’d like to keep exploring it more."
Some of the sonic experimentation, though, was the result of more than just creative ambition. "I used a lot of new guitars this time, because all of mine got lost in the (middle Tennessee) flood," says Urban. "It was a real blessing in the end, because it got me out of my comfort zone, and I was really focused on making music, and not what we were making it with. I borrowed a few guitars, bought a couple of amps on eBay, and just sort of embraced it—that whatever we’ve got to work with, we’re gonna make it work."
Produced with long-time collaborator Dann Huff, Get Closer blends such chugging rockers as "Long Hot Summer" or the first single, "Put You in a Song," with more emotionally complex and nuanced compositions like "Right on Back to You" and “Luxury of Knowing.”* Urban considers "Luxury," written by Lori McKenna, an especially rich selection. "I love that song, because it’s written from such a unique, open-ended, unsettling place," he says. "I look for songs that people are going to feel something towards—like, 'I’m not in that place now, but I’ve very much been in that place.' I’m trying to find those songs that connect with people."
Urban worked with such previous co-writers as Sarah Buxton, Darryl Brown and Richard Marx on Get Closer. But it was a song by two Nashville writers that captured Urban's own experiences with remarkable precision. "'Without You' really is my life story," he says, with some disbelief. "It's crazy—the fast cars and the guitars and the little girl coming along. It's just an amazing song, and I never would have allowed myself to write it."
As the happy accident of that song indicates, the album's creation was less a matter of Urban chasing a theme than it was staying open to songs that revealed where he is in his own life. "This wasn’t a conscious sort of journey for me," he says. "It was just writing and writing and finding songs that speak to me at this time. I looked for songs that represented all different facets of relationships, but the end result is always stay together, get closer, don’t run. The guy in “Right On Back To You” has driven off—but he’s pulled over and gone, 'I always do this. This is ridiculous because I love this girl, what am I doing?' So he turns around and he goes back. They’re all just reconciling with the need to get closer to intimacy."
The magic of Get Closer, then, isn’t a result of what happened when Keith Urban was in the recording studio; it's about all the other hours of the day. "I just think there’s more love in this album, and that permeated everything and made the music deeper," he says. "I loved making this record. I felt a tremendous sense of balance in my life, as a husband and a father and a musician who gets to go and try to capture all that and harness it and create something."