As his first Greatest Hits anthology makes abundantly clear, there hasn’t been a more consistent—both in terms of quality and actual radio hits—singles artist in mainstream country music over the last decade than Keith Urban. The 15 singles included here represent an uninterrupted string of Top 5 hits, including seven #1’s, and what elevates Urban’s output far above other radio favorites like Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney is the quality of his material and the fact that he’s actually talented. Combining massive hooks with Urban’s expressive voice and first-rate guitar work, singles like “Somebody Like You” and “Days Go By” are some of the rare examples of pop-country that aren’t complete embarrassments either as “pop” or “country.” Even when he skews more than a bit emo on ballads like “You’ll Think of Me” and “Making Memories of Us,” Urban is a strong enough singer to keep the performances from being cloying. But Greatest Hits isn’t without a few significant problems. Using the radio edits of 12 of the 18 singles may have allowed for the inclusion of a few extra songs, but those edits trim many of the standout bridges and outros that highlight one of Urban’s biggest selling points: his guitar playing. It makes it a bit disingenuous that he’s shown holding a guitar in almost every photo in the album’s packaging. A more significant problem, though, is the way that the album’s two new singles, “Romeo’s Tune” and “Got It Right This Time (The Celebration),” follow in a trend started on his bloated, overblown Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing. That album displayed a tendency for schmaltzy overproduction in place of the slick pop hooks of his earlier cuts. The bombast has taken a definite toll on both Urban—his performance of “Everybody” on the recent CMA telecast was ragged, and his voice shreds on the coda of “Got It Right This Time”—and the formerly consistent quality of his output. On the new songs, Urban sounds like he’s threatening to bust out his best impressions of early-‘90s hits by Richard Marx and Phil Collins. And if that’s the direction Urban is heading, this Greatest Hits package might be all the more valuable as a document of how good he really was before it all went south.
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