Song Review: Keith Urban, “God Whispered Your Name”

If God’s whispering in Keith Urban’s ear, could he at least feed him a few interesting song ideas while he’s at it?

Calling Urban a Boyfriend country artist is a bit unfair given that he’s been singing lightweight romantic songs for the majority of his career. Generally, however, these songs have at least been delivered with some energy and passion (“Somebody Like You,” “Sweet Thing,” “Long Hot Summer,” etc.), not to mention some instrumental presence that showed off Urban’s guitar chops. Lately, however, he seems to have lost the handle on his sonic formula, and has bounced between weak Chesney-esque social statements (“Female”), bizarre failed experiments in sound blending (“Coming Home,” “Never Comin’ Down”), and bland nostalgia (“We Were”). Urban seems to have completely lost his vision for what sort of artist he wants to be, which brings us to his latest single “God Whispered Your Name.” This track is the country music version of sausage, with several major and minor genre trends ground up and mixed together into a processed package that ultimately lacks any flavor.

Let’s start with the production, which tries to split the difference between classical and Boyfriend country and winds up with not enough elements of either to really give the mix a consistent feel. The songs opens with a simple acoustic guitar and drum set to carry the melody, but then adds some R&B elements courtesy of a Wurlitzer piano and some slick, sterile electric axes, causing the arrangement to get stuck is this weird purgatory between the two genres. The end result lacks the acoustic texture to feel warm and inviting, lacks the groove to feel catchy or sensual, and lacks any semblance of energy to keep it from feeling lifeless and neutral. (The fact that the song is dragged out for an extra minute with random “Hallelujah” calls delivered with all the passion of reading a grocery list doesn’t help matters.) The overall vibe is more lullaby than love song and more snoozefest than spiritual (and while Urban’s guitar wizardy is once again wasted, this time it feels like it could have really made a difference), and while it tries to mask its intentions with religious imagery (more on that later), all I hear is another failed attempt at a sex jam from a genre that should really know better by now.

This song isn’t Urban’s greatest sales job either, as he can’t convince the audience to either believe him in the narrator’s role or care about how love became his salvation. Technically speaking, Urban’s got enough range and flow to cover the track without breaking a sweat, but it feels like there’s something missing. He doesn’t project a ton of power and passion on the song until the very end (because he has to shout above the lifeless background “Hallelujahs”), and he doesn’t balance the positive and negative of the track well enough make me buy him as a lost soul saved by romance (despite the fact that that’s pretty much what happened to him in real life!). There’s an underlying cheeriness to his delivery, which blunts his impact when he tries to talk about how lost he was before his relationship, and yet isn’t enough to elevate his chorus claims of absolute happiness to something that feels meaningful. We know Urban’s got the chops to put on a sad face (“‘Til Summer Comes Around” is a favorite of mine), so why he isn’t able to do it when he needs to be is a bit of a mystery.

The lyrics are basically the bland, lightweight fare of Boyfriend country (the narrator was lost and without purpose, but now the other person in their lives has given it meaning again) smashed together with the use of religious imagery to describe the peaks and valleys of the narrator’s trials (“I couldn’t bear the cross,” “it’s like I’ve been baptized,” etc.). The pairing feels more awkward than it should: The spiritual references are used sporadically and feel tacked-on in an effort to justify the hook (which is honestly too weak to justify the effort), and they’re the same sort of stock images that every sort in this vein includes. While the song isn’t overly short, the repeated “Hallelujahs” feel like pointless padding to drag the song up to the four-minute mark, and only serve to highlight how little the narrator actually says here (“life was bad, then you showed up and now life’s good”). Overall, the writing feels recycled and uninspired, and it entices the listener to tune out rather than tune in.

“God Whispered Your Name” is just another song by just another singer, and serves as a stark reminder of how far Keith Urban has fallen over the last few years. While it’s still an improvement over travesties like “Coming Home” and “Never Comin’ Down,” it’s still an uninspired, forgettable track that mixes together Metro-Bro, boyfriend, and spiritual influences but fails do anything interesting with them. I’ll forget that this song ever existed two months from now, and if Keith Urban doesn’t find a new musical formula soon, I won’t remember him for much longer.

Rating: 5/10. The only thing being whispered in my ear is “You’ve got better ways to waste your time.”