The short version: “We Were” is a step in the right direction for Keith Urban after some disastrous album cycles.
- Writers: Eric Church, Ryan Tyndell, Jeff Hyde
- Rating: 7/10
The long version: Few artists have been as disappointing as Keith Urban over this past decade. While Urban remained a likable pop-country performer throughout the 2000s and even a little bit into the 2010s, he quickly went off the rails starting with 2016’s Ripcord. For an artist known as a guitar virtuoso, it was disappointing to hear him trade in real instruments for electronic effects, especially with how chintzy and cold they sounded. You’d be hard pressed to find a worse album than last year’s Graffiti U because of that.
But there’s always a chance for redemption. With the way Graffiti U flopped, perhaps this would signal a return to form. After all, his performance of Foy Vance’s “Burden” at this year’s ACM Awards wasn’t half bad, and considering his new single, “We Were,” had writing credits from Eric Church and Jeff Hyde, perhaps that prediction wasn’t far off.
While I wouldn’t say ” We Were” is a complete 180 for Urban, it is a step in the right direction. The production is better than anything off of his last two albums, and while no one should go in expecting a pure country song, it does find Urban back in familiar, comfortable territory.
Surprisingly, given the writing team on this song, it’s actually the weakest element of the song. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely traces of Church in the writing – I can’t picture Urban riding on the back of a Harley motorcycle with a leather jacket, for instance. But the song plays on the familiar trope that, frankly, has been played out in country music throughout this past decade (even Church already has “Springsteen,” which, yes, is a better song). You know the story already – a young teenage couple had their moment until they didn’t.
On the plus side, there is some nice imagery here. Comparing the relationship to a band playing all night until the last song is finished is pretty cool, and the image of a water tower skyline has some flavor to it.
The one element that didn’t change even when Urban was at his worst was his vocal ability. He’s never been an exceptionally impressive singer, but he can show off a ton of charisma when the time is right. The only problem was when he used that sparkling personality for bad songs. Here, he admittedly sings with conviction and makes a young romance sound more interesting than it probably has any right to be. There’s a definite pain to his voice, and his flow is impressive throughout, especially on the chorus.
In terms of production, this is definitely the biggest improvement for him. I wouldn’t call the song “restrained” necessarily, but it’s about the best you’ll do when it comes to mainstream country these days. The song is mainly anchored by a moodier, minor acoustic guitar, banjo, and some very faint strings toward the end. Aside from the fake percussion (which at least doesn’t overtake the mix) and hints of other atmospheric effects for emphasis, the song mostly carries an organic flavor to it, which is always the right step to take when you want to show emotion through a song.
I wouldn’t call “We Were” a great song on paper, but it’s performed very well, and it’s good to have Urban back in this type of territory. Annoying title aside which mirrors another song of his (even in terms of the thematic arc), “We Were” is an enjoyable pop-country track that shows Urban taking a step in the right direction.