Looking 4 Myself
Usher Raymond releases his 7th studio album "Looking 4 Myself" this month, and offers his strongest LP since his career defining "Confessions" in 2004. After the monstrous success of that album (the last to be certified Diamond in the United States until the phenomenon that is Adele's "21"), much of Usher's trajectory was hampered by a messy personal life, album leaks and push-backs, and a big downturn in quality. "Here I Stand," his follow-up album, was a critical and commercial failure, forcing him to put out another album shortly after. While "Raymond v. Raymond" saw him riding current trends back to the heights of the charts, the critical and fan reaction to his exploration of the dance-pop genre in place of R&B has not been the warmest.
With "Looking 4 Myself," however, Usher clearly was aiming for a way to return as the king of mainstream R&B while maintaining his more recent reputation for massive dancefloor fillers. Luckily for everyone, he has largely succeeded in this endeavor. This is an album that is not so much cohesive in sound as it is in quality. There isn't a glaringly weak moment on this album, and it is filled with huge single potential on multiple formats. More importantly, Usher is in better form vocally than he has been for years. Gorgeous falsetto, powerful belting, and seductive crooning are packed into the album, serving as a reminder to all of the would-be usurpers of Usher's throne that he is far from done with dominating. The most interesting dimension of how he vocally delivered this album is that even on the biggest of dance moments, he is clearly singing from an R&B state of mind.
With this approach, Usher has succeeded highest in finding a place for the "old Usher" in the modern pop world. He doesn't have to sell his soul to droning will.i.am trash like "OMG" nor does he have to rely on of-the-moment producers to make him sound generic on tracks such as "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love." He proves on dance tracks "Scream" and "Numb" that he can slay a dancefloor just as well, if not better, when he leaves those types of tricks to lesser pop stars. He isn't resting on dance music this album, either. Gorgeous ballad "Climax" is one of his best moments of his career, hinting that perhaps Usher should work with superproducer Diplo more often. The surprises continue to roll in as we see him tackle pop sounds he has avoided in the past, like the throwback grooves of the Pharell-featured "Twisted" or the breezy mid-tempo "Show Me."
"Looking 4 Myself" is a fantastic return to form for Usher Raymond. While it may be lacking in a few bigger moments that would catapult it into "Confessions" level acclaim, it is a sigh of relief for those of us who were worried that he might be descending into irrelevancy. This may not be the album of the year, but it is a welcome reminder that Usher still has some growing to do and that he is finally moving in the right direction again.
"Looking 4 Myself"