In retrospect it was stupid of me to think that Usher had someone lost his grip on the modern R&B throne, even for a moment. Yes, it’s true that Here I Stand was the weakest effort of his career. That album showed that the previously unshakable Usher was, after all, actually human; he sounded complacent, even a little (dare I say it?) boring. Even the greatest aren’t perfect every time, but even at their lowest they remain firmly elevated above the masses. His next album Raymond vs. Raymond – certified platinum, multiple Grammys, etc. - …
DJBooth Album Review
In talking about the album Usher insisted repeatedly that he had essentially created a new style of music that he dubbed “revolutionary pop," and swore that his fans has never heard him sound like this before. Well….that’s not not true. While Myself certainly strays far from the classic Confessions sound he’s most associated with, it really just draws from the same techno/club/EDM foundation that so many artists are currently succeeding with. The openly fist pumping Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop would be shocking to a My Way-era Usher, but coming from a man who’s last huge hit was OMG, it’s really nothing new. The Danja produced Euphoria hews even closer to the 4 AM in Ibiza template, as does the essentially identical Scream. Truthfully the only time I was truly surprised on this album was on the title track Looking 4 Myself, which uses a guitar line and clapping percussion to very hummable effect. Are we really listening to a indie pop/rock Usher? We are, and it works. Still, while Usher may be reinventing himself he’s certainly not reinventing music. If Looking 4 Myself sounds revolutionary it’s because modern music sounds revolutionary and Usher is smart enough to embrace modernity.
In fact, much of the album is essentially straight up R&B, and I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that’s when Looking 4 Myself is at its best. The brilliantly understated Climax, complete with an unexpected conceptual text, might just be one of the most affecting tracks he’s done in years. No, I take that back. The openly autobiographical Sins of My Father is the most affecting track he’d done in years. I can’t think of any other artist of Usher’s status who would tie his cheating ways to an absent father, and for that he deserves some applause. Similarly, but more generically, the seductive and hip-hop influenced Lemme See will have guys wishing they could talk to the ladies like that, and the ladies wishing they could be talked to like that. This embrace of the current rap climate can sometimes sound forced, most obviously on the falsely energetic Hot Thing, but from romantic ballad I Care For U to the Pharell produced Twisted, which actually essentially updates classic Chubby Checker-esque R&B, Usher’s still very much at home in pop/R&B territory, and frankly he can stay there as long as he’d like. Just as long as he keeps making tracks like Climax.
Looking 4 Myself isn’t a classic, it’s just not, but until I hear better, it’s the best R&B album of the year. We’ll see how Chris Brown’s upcoming Fortune shakes out, and there’s a one-in-a-million chance D’Angelo will stage a comeback this year, but I just don’t see another project in the pipeline that will be this commercially and artistically well crafted. So how long can Usher keep it going? How long can he maintain his undisputed status as R&B’s dominant force? The laws of space, time and pop culture say that he’ll eventually, inevitably, fade into the background. But like a NBA player who came into the league right out of high school, he’s far younger than you think. Yes, he’s been putting out albums for almost two decades, but he’s still only 33-years-old. It’s not unreasonable to think that Usher could continue to keep the R&B crown for another decade, and as far as I’m concerned, long live King Usher! Long live Looking 4 Myself!
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 06/15/12
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Icebox (Remix) ft. Usher & Fabolous" (2007)
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