Dear Hunter Hayes: Feel free to replace Keith Urban on the radio at any time. Seriously, the sooner the better.
I’ve never been the world’s biggest Keith Urban fan, but he seems to have lost his musical identity in the last few years, and gotten more experimental with his output. Mind you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the quality of his output has been all over the map, ranging from pretty darn solid (“Blue Ain’t Your Color”) to mediocre-but-well-intentioned (“Female”) to pretty darn bad (“The Fighter,” “Coming Home”). The last of these is a fitting description for Urban’s latest single “Never Comin’ Down,” the third from his Graffiti U album. The song is an awkward fusion of funk, disco, hip-hop, and “Metro-Bro” that sounds generic at best and headache-inducing at worst, the sort of failed sonic experiment that should have been left on the cutting room floor instead of being shipped to the radio.
You know you’re in for a long review when the first thing you hear is the most obnoxious, ear-grating line of beatboxing you’ve heard in at least the last decade. Outside of a disco-era bass and some echoey Urban vocals, this is all you get until you reach the first chorus, when some guitars, a slow-rolling banjo, and a mix of real and synthetic percussion jump in, and the track suddenly sounds like every other Keith Urban song ever recorded. The song spends the rest of its time oscillating between the irritating verses and yawn-inducing choruses, with a brief break for people to repeat “dance baby” atop the beatboxing for a while (along with a line that’s completely indistinguishable: “Oh now?” “All night?” Honestly, it sounds like “hole now” to me). It’s the rare mix that somehow manages to be too experimental and not experimental enough at the same time, and the best thing I can say about it is that does establishes the sort of carefree atmosphere you’d expect from a party-all-night song. Still, when “empty sonic calories” is your mix’s biggest selling point, it’s time to find a new producer.
The vocals, much like the production, is a tale of two Urbans: The same one you’ve heard a million times on the choruses, and the one who tries a little too hard to add some sexual energy to the verses. Unlike the soulful feel of “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Verse Urban is a bit too rough and breathy to maintain his tone and establish a sexy feel (that section seems a bit too low for his voice), and he doesn’t isn’t able to give the song the sensual vibe he’s looking for. Chorus Urban, in contrast, seems more comfortable when pushed into his higher range and supported by a generally-happy atmosphere. It’s actually a useful performance from a scientific perspective, as it puts comfort-zone Urban next to experimental Urban and demonstrates conclusively that this sort of genre fusion (“Disc-Bro-politan”?) is not his forte. All in all, Urban’s had better performances.
This is the kind of the song that asks you to ignore the lyrics in favor of the beat, but if you do happen to dig into the writing, you’d find that there’s not much here: The night’s heating up, there’s money to burn, and beer and to burn it on, so let’s dance all night! If you were to remove the lyrics entirely, nothing changes—they feature no wit, no originality, and above all no point. Saying anything beyond that is just a waste of time.
“Never Comin’ Down” is the sort of song you try once in the studio, laugh about how crazy it sounds, and then erase the tape. It’s a bad album cut and a really bad single choice, full of irritating production choices, unmoving vocals, and lyrics so vapid and and superfluous you won’t even notice they’re there. It’s the sort of song that’s been done a hundred times before (but rarely this poorly), and it further erodes my confidence in Keith Urban as a performer. I’m not quite ready to add Urban to my list of artists that need to leave the genre, but I wouldn’t complain much if he did.
Rating: 3/10. Ugh.