Song Review: Keith Urban ft. Julia Michaels, “Coming Home”

I’m generally in favor of recycling, but not when it’s done this poorly.

Keith Urban has been all over the map with his recent single releases, bouncing from a strong R&B effort on “Blue Ain’t Your Color” to a mediocre 80s pop collaboration on “The Fighter” to an well-meaning-but-poorly-written celebration of women on “Female.” His latest radio offering is “Coming Home,” partnering with pop singer-songwriter Julia Michaels in an attempt to celebrate the temporary escape of urban life for the small rural communities that many call home. It’s a tired, overdone topic performed in the most artificial and unconvincing way possible, and is easily the worst of Urban’s recent releases.

The trend of the production is the exact opposite of Kelsea Ballerini’s “I Hate Love Songs”: It opens with a few promising piano lines, and then immediately devolves into a synthetic Metropolitan mess. My biggest issue with the track is how poorly it suits the subject matter: For a song that talks about escaping the cold, soulless city for the familiar people and places of home, the mix is as cold and soulless as they come, driven mostly by an in-your-face drum machine and featuring no real people outside of a token banjo and some underused guitars. (Once again, Urban’s sick guitar skills are completely wasted and given no chance to shine.) Much of the furor towards this song is directed towards the re-use of Merle Haggard’s iconic riff from “Mama Tried,” and while I’m not impressed by the decision either, I’m more annoyed by the fact that it doesn’t seem to have a purpose in this song, and is just tossed into the mix for nothing more than added publicity. As bad as the production on Danielle Bradbery’s “Worth It” was, it was a better fit for its lyrics than this artificial abomination.

For his part, Urban feels like a fish out of water on this track. He certainly gives the impression that’s he’s invested (put another way, his is not an effortless delivery) and his performance is technically solid (good range and flow), but he isn’t able to override the production and sell the listener on his sincerity. The escape he sings about feels more like wishful thinking than a successful return home, and the song feels weaker as a result. Michaels’s contribution is pretty forgettable here, as the track limits to background vocals and repeating a single line four times. (While other critics have questioned the choice of Michaels over a woman who’s already part of the country genre, the fact is that the role here is so small that it doesn’t provide much of a platform for the performer, regardless of who they are.) Overall, it’s an unremarkable effort from both artists, one that gets completely negated by the instrumentation.

The lyrics aren’t terrible, but they’re nothing to write home about either. The narrator is a beaten-down city dweller who longs to return home and, like the fictional denizens of Cheers, “to go where everybody knows your name/And they’re always glad you came.” The urban imagery is boilerplate, but at least it’s raw and vivid (“I’m turnin’ into concrete/Harder than these city streets”), whereas the “home” images are frustratingly vague and focus on the people rather than the places (and even then, the people are a bit too faceless for my taste—they could at have least thrown in an occupation or relation as a label). The song seems to be trying to capitalize on the growing nostalgia trend within country music, but there just aren’t enough specifics here to move the listener; the song just flows smoothly in one ear and out the other.

I’m just not sure what Keith Urban and his team were going for with “Coming Home.” The production lacks warmth (but includes an unnecessary rip-off of a country legend), the lyrics lack feeling, and neither Urban nor Julia Michaels have the power to elevate the track beyond forgettable. The closest this track gets to nostalgia is making people look back and think “I remember when country music sounded better than this junk.”

Rating: 4/10. If you really need a Keith Urban escapist track, try “Where The Blacktop Ends” instead.