Since he started writing most of his songs about how amazing it is to be married to Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban's music has lost a good deal of the luster that made him one of the biggest and most compelling acts in contemporary country. Urban has always been at his best when his music retains at least a hint of an edge and a melancholic undercurrent, even when he structures his songs with massive, sugar-shock pop hooks. His sixth proper studio album, Get Closer, intermittently hints at a creative rebound and a return to a sound that owes less to Richard Marx and Phil Collins than has his recent output.
Urban has never been any kind of a country traditionalist, but what's distinctive about his style is that he often places traditional country string instruments—the banjo, most noticeably—at the foreground of arrangements that would otherwise be straight-up adult pop. Get Closer, thankfully, finds Urban picking up his banjo more often than he has on his last couple of albums. Genre purists will still hate them on principle, but "You Gonna Fly" and "Without You" give Urban ample opportunities to showcase his truly accomplished talents with damn near any string instrument he picks up, and they scan as more firmly rooted in country music's narrative traditions than the songs on the bloated Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing and the wheels-spinning Defying Gravity.
Lead single "Put You in a Song" suggests a certain lack of self-awareness on Urban's part, since writing about his marriage has generally resulted in a series of grotesque Hallmark Valentine's Day card poems passed off as songs, but Urban's writing is shaper here than it has been in some time. "Georgia Woods" takes a relatively simple idea for a hook ("I know that I've fallen/'Cause I'm already callin' you 'baby'") and builds it up to a massive, hard-rock climax, while "Without You" is a paean to married life that doesn't turn into some kind of weepy, bathetic power ballad. "Shut Out the Lights" and "You Gonna Fly" are both radio-ready anthems in the same vein as some of Urban's best singles like "Days Go By" and "Somebody Like You."
In other words, Get Closer plays out as vintage Urban. Considering how long it's been since he really hit his marks this well, that makes the album a welcome return to form. Though Urban has drawn criticism for the album's abbreviated format (the standard version covers only eight tracks at just over half an hour, with an extended version available exclusively at Target), it's perhaps more charitable to think of Get Closer as his most carefully edited album, if not necessarily his best.