Usher has always maintained a systematic approach with his music: formulaically smooth, sexy R&B tracks that not only highlight his liquid vocals, but offer intricate storylines of passionate affairs that sometimes creep into autobiographical territory. For his sixth album, Raymond v. Raymond, the content is all too predictable with currents of sexual trysts and glides to danceable tracks that fuse bedroom rendezvous with apologetic turns.
Mounting pressure and comparisons to his highest grossing album, Confessions have surrounded the megastar, but considering the current state of the music market, with more digital downloads (often gratis) than purchases at a record store, let’s just say it ain’t what it used to be, my dear friends.
On his fourth album, Usher took personal accounts of side hookups (possibly noted from past relationship with Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas) and churned massive, chart-topping hits that had ladies lining up to be the next tempestuous mistress. Then, buzz kill – Usher’s off the market. Now a father of two and after a public divorce from ex-wife Tameka Foster, an inconclusive answer to “Why Did I Get Married?” followed as well as Usher’s return to the R&B enterprise.
Raymond v. Raymond is a revolving contention of Usher’s identity at two different stages: the introspective, mature man and the ego-boosting, swag-leaning entertainer. Unsurprisingly, the album cedes to the latter. It’s a near replication of Confessions, sans drama. The difference: excessive eagerness to indulge.
His promo single, Papers, penned by producer/songwriter Sean Garrett, encapsulates a torrential relationship reaching its grim end, a speculative foreshadowing of Usher’s own failing relationship. “I done damn near lost my mama/ I done been through so much drama/
I done turned into the man that I never thought I'd be,” Usher laments. Which had the fans wondering and matching lyrical content to factual evidence from the media about: 1) bruised relationship with mother 2) 911 phone call of keyed car 3) Diminished fan acceptance of Here I Stand. I won’t be placing divorce in the party anthem column any time soon.
Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home) is a smidge dated for Usher’s first single. Given the fact that he is actually a father, lyrical functions of courting a sexual beau with paternal figure name-calling, is, forgive me, pimped out. OMG falters with heavy Auto-Tune confusion and wan rhyming lyrics like “pow” and “wow. It’s like a scrapped Black Eyed Peas track that didn’t make the cut on The E.N.D.Mars vs. Venus is another banausic explanation of intergalactic love (Check out Kid Cudi, Trey Songz, Jay Z), but does strengthen with sinuous vocals and the sleek production of R&B icons Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
A few refreshing tracks ripple through the album, some featuring hip hop officiates (Ludacris, T.I.). Lil Freak a bass-heavy track from producer Polow da Don, offers Stevie Wonder sampling (looping string melody from Living for the City) and a radio-worthy chorus. Newcomer rap vixen, Nicki Minaj (love her Marilyn Manson faces), ferociously raps about adding a female prospect to Usher’s threesome (or 4?), listing Rudolph’s reindeer siblings to come along, which sounds oddly clever.
Pro Lover is a reggae-soul fusion that could be his next hit. “Lovin me baby that’s a no-no (no-no)/I’m better when I touch and go/I’m trying to add yo name to my hall of fame/Not just a player, I’m a pro lover.” Boasting of bedpost notches, Usher makes the ultimate playa song that warns against foolish admiration and teetering obsession.
As a longtime fan of Usher, this album has great moments and also lagging tunes. His musicality, extroverted sexiness, and charisma have helped to mould him into an iconic, international singer. Whether or not he’s fighting opposing sides of himself, the man and the entertainer are ultimately one entity. But the excessive need to showcase a return to the single life with sexual party favors and ménages, suggests there is little in the way of imagination or creativity to come for Usher.