Pop and country have become increasingly interchangeable in the 21st century, and few artists have benefited more than Keith Urban. On paper, he’s a wealth of contradictions -- a country boy with an exotic accent, a balladeer with rock & roll chops, a stubbled face framed by flat-ironed hair. On his albums, though, Urban molds those would-be incompatibilities into some of the slickest country songs this side of Taylor Swift, appealing to his longtime Nashville supporters while still targeting fans who wouldn’t be caught dead inside a honky tonk. Released one year after 2009’s Defying Gravity, Get Closer is another country-pop hybrid, executed with swagger and professionalism by the man who helped bring drum machines to Music City.
The bad news is that the album is short. Super short. Unless fans want to drive to Target, which has exclusive rights to the full version of Get Closer, they’ll have to settle for a shorter album that clocks in at eight tracks. This so-called “standard” edition feels more like an EP, and the fact that Target’s version only adds two more originals -- coupled with a remake of Santana’s “Winning” and four live tracks from the Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing tour -- provides little relief. The good news is that Get Closer, in all its abridged glory, contains some of Urban’s best work to date. He co-writes most of the material and chooses his songwriting partners wisely, working with Sarah Buxton (who wrote the Grammy-winning “Stupid Boy”) on “Put You in a Song” and collaborating with longtime partner Darrell Brown on the country-rocker “Georgia Woods,” which may be the best tune here. Those two songs -- along with “You Gonna Fly,” “Long Hot Summer,” and “Shut Out the Lights” -- round out the rock section, and Urban decorates them with an arsenal of stringed instruments, from bazouki to banjo to E-bow guitar. A former session player who performed on Garth Brooks' Double Live, he sometimes lets his own professionalism get the best of him, downplaying his guitar skills on record to make each song as commercial as possible. The rockers on Get Closer are an exception to the rule, though, filled with the sort of two-minute guitar workouts that are only rivaled by contemporaries like Brad Paisley and John Mayer. If the fast songs are an excuse for Urban to flex his chops, then the slower numbers give him a chance to sing directly to his wife, Nicole Kidman, whose influence helps replace the weepy ballads of past albums with measured, midtempo highlights like “Without You.” Get Closer may be 34 minutes long, but it uses its time wisely, featuring a virtually filler-free track list that contains some of Urban’s sharpest open-highway tunes and bedroom ballads.