Keith Urban, "Ripcord" (Capitol Nashville)
Having finished his run as an "American Idol" judge, Keith Urban leaps into "Ripcord," the most eclectic, genre-spanning album of his career. Like "Idol," Urban's new songs are a little bit country, a little bit rock, a little bit R&B and a lot of glossy, carefully arranged pop.
With 10 producers involved, "Ripcord" is a hodgepodge of musical directions. Singing with new vigor and range, the Australian-raised country singer sounds best when leaning on old-school R&B. He brings a soulful touch to "Break on Me" and his duet with Carrie Underwood on "The Fighter" sounds like a modern update of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. The organ and single-note guitar on "Blue Ain't Your Color" follows Chris Stapleton into a contemporary style of country blues.
Elsewhere, Urban strains to fit into a hip sound. The hit "Gettin' in the Way" is a clever song about desire, but the generic group choruses dampen the joy. He stands his ground with Pitbull on the hip-hop lite of "Sun Don't Let Me Down," but it sounds more like an exercise than a celebration.
An experimental approach is commendable for a veteran artist. Despite the uneven results, "Ripcord" pays off more often than not.