Pop Album Review – Keith Urban’s ‘Ripcord’

Remember last week in the Hodgepodge when I mentioned how releasing pop music to country radio makes you a liar? Well we already have our shining example of this for 2016 in the form of Keith Urban’s new album Ripcord. Let’s state up front for the record the obvious: this is not a country record and doing a country review of it is absolutely pointless. This is a straight pop album and anyone who tells you otherwise needs to get his or her hearing checked. I was going to just ignore this album and move along. But then I decided to do something a little bit different from the norm to shake things up. I’m going to give Ripcord a pop review. Yes, for this review it becomes Pop Perspective. I will treat this record like a pop one and review it through the lens of a pop reviewer. This is not a rant because I want to make a point with this review. So let’s take a look at Ripcord, track by track.

Gone Tomorrow (Here Today) – Some nice banjo play opens the song before giving way to synthesizers, drum machines and guitars. The song is going for a folktronica sound, but really it comes off as a half-baked attempt. The energy could be higher, from both Urban and the production. It’s trying to be this soaring dance song and it doesn’t go far enough. The song can’t fully commit because it’s trying to keep its foot in country.

John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 – I did a country review of this song already and looking at it as a pop song, I really don’t have much more to add. This song just lists a bunch of stuff and the viewer is expected to connect with it. The production is kind of catchy I guess.

Wasted Time – Another one I already reviewed through the country lens, which it purports to be. It’s really a pop/dance tune that relies on nostalgia. The beat is catchy, fun and easy to get stuck in your head. As a mindless, summer song it works. Listen closely though and there isn’t much meat in the lyrics. It’s also really kind of pathetic to refer to wasted time as a golden time in your life.

Habit of You – Urban spends this song singing about having sex with his girl all night. It should come off as romantic, when really it’s just boring and dry to my ears. Urban is trying to emulate Sam Hunt here and it doesn’t work. Urban just doesn’t do sexy. I would put this song in the same vein as Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor’s “Marvin Gaye.”

Sun Don’t Let Me Down – Pitbull and Nile Rodgers collaborate with Urban on this funky, dance tune. Once you get past the pointless inclusion of Pitbull, this song is actually kind of fun. By the way, I’ve never heard a song that was enhanced by adding Pitbull. Sure he’s harmless fun, but again what’s the point? Rodgers on the other hand really helps make this song fun with his funky guitar licks throughout. Many people forget he’s one of the reasons Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” became such a big hit a few years ago. I could definitely see this being a hit at pop radio too.

Gettin’ In The Way – This is another song on the album where I’m just bored. Nothing about this song sucks me in and it starts to get old when pretty much every song is trying to be about some sultry, romantic rendezvous. Urban is just not believable in this role.

Blue Ain’t Your Color – Now Urban is at the bar and trying to pick up some heartbroken woman. Looking upon the surface it seems like Urban is trying to cheer up the girl. But I know exactly what he’s doing: he’s trying to slide right into her pants with sweet talk. Just like Sam Hunt’s sleazy “Take Your Time,” this song is thinly veiled douchebaggery at it’s finest. Not a really good look for you, Keith.

The Fighter – Here’s another collaboration on this album and this time Urban is joined by Carrie Underwood. Upon first listen you think you finally hear a dance song from Urban with energy to it. But upon more listens I’m just kind of bored. Underwood’s vocal performance isn’t the best and once again Urban is playing an unbelievable role, this time the man being the fighter for a woman after she’s had her heart-broken and mistreated. If you buy Urban as the knight in shining armor riding in, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

Break On Me – This song bores me to tears. And yeah I reviewed this one already too because Urban bizarrely released three singles before the album. Moving on…

Boy Gets A Truck – Urban tries to get cute on this song by starting each line in the chorus with the ending word of the previous line. It comes off as really cheesy and forced. The subject matter doesn’t really pique my interest either. How many hookup songs do we need?

Your Body – This song makes me imagine Urban and some girl 20 years younger than him getting naked together. Gross. This is not the kind of image any artist should strive for in their music. Aren’t you married, Keith? The lyrics are so perversely detailed that I just want no part of this song.

That Could Still Be Us – Urban ponders the love he has lost on this song. I still can’t stop thinking about Urban singing about his skin touching her skin and how it makes him feel like he’s in heaven on “Your Body.” So forgive me that I can’t take this serious ballad…seriously. But in all seriousness this song is kind of lame.

Worry ‘Bout Nothin’ – Finally the last song on this album. The production is way overdone on this one and Urban’s voice is clearly being modified throughout. I guess it’s supposed to help him sound…yeah I got nothing. The best thing about this song is it’s the final one of the album.

I told you reviewing this as a country record is pointless. There wasn’t much more use in reviewing it as a pop record, except for a few remarks. As you can tell, no matter which genre you stick Ripcord in, it’s a terrible album. This album felt like a to-do list of stuff Urban wanted to try because he felt like it and there was absolutely no direction planned for it. Some of it sticks like on “Wasted Time” and “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” The rest however is pretty much a complete mess. I hear so much from country fans that an artist’s songs aren’t bad as pop music if I dismiss it as not country music. So the overall point I wanted to make with this review was to show that genre lines really don’t matter the most when it comes to judging music’s quality. Many refer to bad country music as pop and that’s insult to pop music because there’s a lot of great pop music (see Beyoncé’s Lemonade). This album even insults pop. It’s pretty simple: there is great music and there is bad music. Ripcord is bad music.

Pop Grade: 3/10

8 thoughts on “Pop Album Review – Keith Urban’s ‘Ripcord’

  1. Grant May 18, 2016 / 5:53 pm

    I never thought Urban was the greatest “country” singer but I always thought his music was kind of catchy and not offensive to the country genre at least. The Pitbull colaboration and electronic crap is a disgrace.

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  2. Nadia Lockheart May 18, 2016 / 6:04 pm

    “Ripcord” is that sort of album where I feel like plenty of the production works in a pop context, and it has moments stylistically that sound professional, but in terms of the songwriting just feels shallow.

    What I can respect about this album is that Urban didn’t seek out collaborators lazily. He did his homework seeking out true professionals, and even if the end result is often underwhelming, it at least sounds like a professionally-produced pop album.

    “Sun Don’t Let Me Down” stands out as one of the stronger tracks for just that reason. Nile Rodgers remains just as talented as ever in writing tight hooks and riffs, and it’s no different here. The driving riff anchoring this track is likely the catchiest feature on this entire album and, if Country-centric entertainers only had a more successful track record crossing over to Adult Top 40 radio, “Sun Don’t Let Me Down” could be a crossover hit. I don’t expect it to be, but it at least SOUNDS like a crossover smash.

    Jeff Bhasker is another great example. He has done some effective production for fun. and Bruno Mars, and “Gone Today (Here Tomorrow)” definitely catches my attention somehow. It definitely sounds like that kind of track that’ll be fully realized in an arena setting.

    Finally, the electro-waltz of “Blue Ain’t Your Color” sounds pretty good. When you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, the remaining sum of its parts are enjoyable. “Gettin’ In The Way” and “Worry ‘Bout Nothin'” don’t sound bad either.

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    No: what makes the album a rather frustrating listen way too often than it should are the lyrics.

    Like you said, the lyrics are what make an otherwise solid “Blue Ain’t Your Color” painful. Same story with “The Fighter” (which is among my least favorite tracks on the album already, but is clearly the runaway favorite if the sales chart is any indication) in how it reinforces the whole backhanded hook-up routine we’ve seen in many songs lately. But even if that’s reading too far into them, they still come across as insipid as dime-a-dozen. Avicii’s “Hey Brother” was a much more simple, yet authentic, take on the same topic of having someone’s back in times of adversity because, in that case, it felt familial.

    Otherwise, Keith Urban just resorts to sexual frustration most the rest of the album. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it just underscores how uninspired he is as a songwriter to approach a singular topic in the most safe, crowd-pleasing way imaginable. Prince may have been perpetually sexually frustrated, but the way he articulated it usually felt a lot more compelling because he explored the intersectionality of sexuality and spirituality with much of his songwriting.

    Then there are moments where he cynically tries to tackle deeper subject material, but clumsily trips on consumerist tropes like with “Boy Gets A Truck” and “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”. Or when he feels like he has to try to hard to prove he can be vulnerable like he does with a calculated vocal performance on “That Could Still Be Us”: which feels just as forced as when indie alternative artists feel like they HAVE to record with 50’s-era recording equipment and analog settings in order to sound authentic and obtain critical credibility. Urban sold vulnerability in spades with cuts like “Stupid Boy” before…………………why did he feel like he had to record a raw vocal track to prove it now?

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    So………………..I’d say my opinion of “Ripcord” as a pop album is slightly more favorable than your assessment, but not by much.

    At the very least, “Ripcord” has more memorable moments than “Fuse” and actually sounds like a genuine stab at experimentation with real professionals. But there’s painfully little meat on its bones, and most of this will be rendered forgettable quickly anyway.

    Hopefully “Ripcord” was intended as a one-time divergence, or a last hurrah to the mainstream masses, and his next album will be more understated and have more depth to its songwriting. He used to be consistently enjoyable hearing on the radio dial but, beginning with “Little Bit of Everything”, he has lost me…………….and I fear he may lose me for good.

    I’m thinking a Decent to Strong 4 out of 10 for this.

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  3. Raymond May 18, 2016 / 6:36 pm

    You know when I think of good Keith Urban songs I think of “Tonight I Wanna Cry” “I Told You So” “Stupid Boy” “Once In A Lifetime” “You’ll Think Of Me” and one of my biggest guilty pleasures “Raining On Sunday”. This album just doesn’t even make me recognize Keith Urban, and I honestly consider this Keith Urban’s big sellout moment.

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    • Nadia Lockheart May 18, 2016 / 7:53 pm

      I consider “Little Bit of Everything” the moment that Urban began to “sell out”.

      Something about his tone, including that of the lyrics, just felt way out of character on that song. It just had an odd, douchey vibe to it.

      I liked a strong majority of his radio singles prior to “Little Bit of Everything”. He has almost always walked a thin line between country and pop, but it felt genuine and sounded enjoyable because of the strong melodic structures of each song. emotionally committed vocal performances and lyricism that was agreeable and had a positive vibe to it.

      And while I know the remaining singles from “Fuse” weren’t as lyrically grating as “Little Bit of Everything” were, that same tone pops up so often on “Ripcord”. So it’s as though “Little Bit of Everything” was a subtle omen for what would follow, and it wouldn’t be pretty overall.

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  4. petemarshall724 May 18, 2016 / 10:48 pm

    That was funny Josh by calling this a pop cd. You are right though this is not a country flavored cd but more of a popish-country cd.

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  5. OlaR May 19, 2016 / 9:09 am

    For sure the album is not an americana-album. It’s a pop album released by an country-pop singer. Or pop-country singer. Let’s not forget: he is a member of the Opry.
    “Ripccord” will give him one more successful album era. The format is overcrowded with male artists. Country will move on with or without Keith Urban. The next album-gimmick might be one pop-dance-electro gimmick too much.

    Check-Out/Artist: Mario Flores (& the Soda Creek Band):
    Country singer from Texas. The Soda Creek Band is his live band. He released his first album in 2010 (“Fighting The Fool”), the second album in 2012 (“I Didn’t Pick This Life”) & his current album in 2015 (“Almost Famous”).
    His music is very solid & very “Texas”. From country rock (“One Boot In The Grave”) to ballads (“You Make Love Look Beautiful”) & radio-friendly tunes like “Adios Baby Goodbye”, his current album is a winner. My highlight is “Truck Bench Church”. 9/10.

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  6. jmarsh123 May 20, 2016 / 7:59 am

    Thank you for pointing out bad music is just bad music. I hate pop music being called country, but crap like this, Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett is just plain bad no matter what genre it is being called.

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