June 11, 2012 No comments yet
For an artist that’s been in the business as long as Usher, it seems surprising he would title his seventh album Looking 4 Myself. Indeed, in his almost 20 year career, Usher has amassed multiple Grammy’s, countless hit singles, and is widely regarded as one of the strongest entertainers to ever grace a stage. After such accolades, then, one should expect Usher to be more than adept at understanding his artistry. A closer look at his most recent releases, however, renders the title quite apt musically (and personally if you’ve been following his custody battle).
Somewhere after the success of his diamond-certified Confessions album, Usher lost his way. 2008’s Here I Stand was too
sappy mature for fans expecting the same playboy that churned out smashes like “Yeah,” and Raymond v. Raymond was a fickle attempt at keeping up with radio trends. So what does this mean for Looking 4 Myself? How does it stack up against his previous work?
Put simply, the album plays like sequel to Raymond v. Raymond, but one that is more innovative than the original. As R&B artists struggle to remain relevant amongst a barrage of synthy production and trivial lyrics, it would be foolish to expect Usher to abandon the pop records dominating the airwaves. But where Looking 4 Myself succeeds is in its merger of today’s dance craze with the R&B of Usher’s past. In other words, Usher combines elements of various genres to create songs that all of his fan bases can enjoy.
Usher in the dramatic visual for “Climax”
One of the best examples of this union is the album’s first single, “Climax.” Lyrically, the song details a relationship that has run its course, but its standout nature is the result of Usher’s vocal performance and the unique production. Diplo crafts a start/stop instrumental that repeatedly builds to nail-biting crescendos before reverting back to a slow jam that could easily fit in on any adult contemporary station. Usher’s falsetto, on the other hand, is strong while conveying the vulnerability one would encounter after realizing a relationship is failing. This track is one of the year’s best and deserves Grammy recognition.
“I Care For U” is another song that features the best of both Ushers. You may recognize some of the sounds from C. Breezy’s “Till I Die” – as both tracks were produced by Danja – but Usher’s song is no toast to the good life. “I Care For U” is a menacing mid tempo that sees Usher trying to reassure his lover he is committed to the relationship. The track is a bit unusual in that there is a striking contrast between Usher’s apologetic delivery and the daunting sounds of the production, but this subtle irony makes the track enjoyable.
The album also features more traditional pop songs in the form of “Scream,” “Numb,” and “Euphoria.” Usher’s R&B fans might be hesitant to embrace these tracks if basing initial impressions on “Scream,” but luckily that single isn’t indicative of the other tracks. In fact, “Numb” and “Euphoria” are the best pop songs Usher’s produced since he jumped on the euro train. On “Numb” Usher sings:
“Keep on doing the same thing
And you expecting change
Well is that really insanity
Or just a losers’ game”
In contrast to his previous European escapades, Usher thankfully bridges the gap between quality and revelry by supplementing the booming production with actual lyrics. The minimal use of autotune should also alleviate the guilt for even the most loyal supporter of urban music.
The album’s strongest moments, though, are the ballads, and “Dive” is the standout amongst the pack.
Usher pleads his willingness to trek through storms and “dive” head first into love. The lyrics are flawless, and Usher’s soaring vocals reinforce the sincerity of the song’s message. Another standout is the 40-produced “What Happened To U.” While “Dive” capitalized off its dramatic delivery, however, the strength of “What Happened To U” is the exact opposite. Usher practices restraint, which enables him to highlight the simplistic beauty of the track that happens to borrow a sample from Biggie’s One More Chance.
Despite L4M‘s strengths, the album has noticeable missteps. “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” starts the album on a somewhat bumpy pace as the mid tempo never quite finds its footing among the busy will.i.am production, and “Show Me” is pure filler. The biggest disappointment, though, is the Pharrell-assisted “Twisted.” Although the song is a welcome addition to summer playlists, the retro cut does not fit on an album that largely owes its sound to contemporary influences. The track would have been better suited for Here I Stand as it disrupts L4M‘s auditory aesthetic.
Looking 4 Myself is a slightly misleading title as fans looking to find out more about Usher’s personal life aren’t likely to find much material. But what you will find is a veteran taking a risk. Usher’s new album represents him taking the constructs of musical genres, and testing their restraints. Looking 4 Myself is creative, fresh, and, most importantly, enjoyable. Yes, it isn’t Confessions (and doesn’t really try to be), but it’s the best damn thing since.
Looking 4 Myself is available starting June 12 here.