Uh, Keith? 1987 just called. It wants its pop song back.
Urban has been all over the map with his latest album Ripcord, bouncing from the Metropolitan sound of “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” to the more-acoustic ballad “Break On Me” to the wistful pop sound of “Wasted Time” to the old-school AC groove of “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” For his fifth single, however, Urban has apparently decided to challenge Sam Hunt for the title of “most non-country-sounding country song” by channeling his inner Rick Astley on “The Fighter.”
Don’t look for fiddle and steel on this song—the production here is driven completely by bright, breezy 80s-style synthesizers and drum machines. If it wasn’t for the snare drum that eventually jumps in, I’d question whether any real musicians were used on the track at all. This would be madly annoying by itself, but it’s made worse by the fact that Urban, one of the best guitar players in any genre, leaves his guitar almost completely off from the track! Sure, there’s some energy here, but Urban’s guitar wizardry is part of what makes his music stand out from the crowd. Without it, “The Fighter” has nothing to offer but a disappointing bubblegum-pop-country sound. As crazy as this sounds, this production annoys me even more than Sam Hunt’s definitely-not-country “Body Like A Back Road.”)
To their credit, Urban and Underwood bring their A-games to their vocals; Underwood in particular sounds epic and invested (even if her voice is buried in vocal effects), and the call-and-response layout of the chorus showcases the pair’s vocal chemistry. (Honestly, this song feels more like a full-fledged duet than a “featured artist” track.) Unfortunately, the singers don’t have a lot to work with here, as the song’s lyrics are beyond generic and vanilla. The platitudes and promises here are things we’ve heard a hundred times before (the guy won’t let the girl fall, he’ll never make the girl cry, etc., etc.) and not even the implied past persecution of the woman in the song does anything to move the needle.
Overall, “The Fighter” is a bland, boring song that’s in the wrong genre and offers an energetic pace and nothing else. While both Urban and Underwood have pulled off some impressive genre-bending gymnastics in the past, this one’s just a dud. With any luck, this song will be relegated to “Keith-rolling” unsuspecting Internet users in 2035.
Rating: 4/10. You can skip this without feeling too sorry about it.