One of the reasons that Keith Urban has been so successful—he has seven #1 hits at country radio, two multiplatinum albums, a mantleful of CMA and ACM awards, and a Grammy—is that he’s a rare, if not the only, example of “pop country” that isn’t a complete embarrassment as either pop or country music. With two crossover hits still pulling in Adult Top 40 airplay, two of country radio’s most played recurrent staples, a new marriage to one of the world’s most widely-known actresses, and a highly publicized stint in rehab for alcoholism, Urban’s profile is certainly higher than it has ever been, making Love, Pain & The Whole Crazy Thing, his fourth solo album, the most hotly anticipated album of his career.
Misguided, self-indulgent, and over-produced, the album flies in the face of most every expectation that it should rank among the year’s best mainstream country offerings. Consider: At a juncture when he’s supposed to be at the peak of his craft, Urban has chosen to bust out a cover of Phil Collins’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” oversung within an inch of his life and produced with such deafening bombast that it makes Journey’s “Open Arms” sound subtle by comparison. Most of the album’s uptempo numbers, such as lackluster first single “Once In A Lifetime,” are saddled with minute-plus long instrumental codas, not one of which bothers to showcase what a phenomenal guitarist Urban is, so they’re just that much more weight on an album that’s already bloated.
There are a few other songs, in addition to the appalling Collins cover, that are completely embarrassing to listen to. As adept as he might be with romantic uptempo numbers like hit singles “Somebody Like You” or “My Better Half” and with borderline-emo ballads like the Grammy-winning “You’ll Think Of Me,” Urban simply can’t pull off any facsimile of a down-home country boy song like “Raise The Barn,” a duet with Ronnie Dunn, that is a strident attempt at building street cred. Even more ridiculous is the pseudo-beatboxing vocal effect that runs through the inexplicably-titled “Tu Compania,” which is as unlistenable as anything released in 2006 and is one of two tracks on which Urban can’t share blame with Dann Huff for the indefensible production choices.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an artist looking to expand his fanbase, and certainly lesser talents have found the kind of crossover success that Urban seems to be courting with the high-gloss sheen of Love, Pain & The Whole Thing. But it’s impossible to hear this as the album that will catapult Urban to stardom outside of the country industry. As a country album, a pop album, or something in between, Love, Pain & The Whole Thing is simply bad.