Review Summary: There are three sides to every story. Usher apologizes. Usher gets women. Usher apologizes. Again.
A rather gregarious friend of mine once said: “I don’t write love letters. I write apology letters.”
So seems the case for Usher Raymond IV as well, who releases Raymond v. Raymond
as his sixth full-length album and the follow up to 2008’s Here I Stand
. Yet, in concept, his latest album seems to be more of a follow-up to the double-platinum Confessions
, in which Usher profiled the breakup between him and Chilli of TLC. Songs included the provocative “Confessions Pt. 2”, in which Usher confesses to impregnating a mistress of his. The song is, essentially, an apology letter, and Usher promises to clean up his act. Confessions
also included “Yeah,” so Usher’s credibility on this apology seemed shaky even at the time.
He moved onto Here I Stand
, which broke away from the breakup theme, and focused on what Usher does best--crossing R&B vocals with hip-hop production to create hits like “Love in This Club.” Unfortunately, Usher has suffered another breakup since then--this time a high-profile divorce with Tameka Foster--and has returned to the style of Confessions
. At least in principle.
On “Monstar,” the album starts high-concept, with Usher’s spoken word offering the dictum: “There are three sides to every story. There’s one side; there’s the other, and then there’s the truth.” In these immediate ten seconds, it seems like Usher has something up his sleeve, a real focused album. Then the computerized voiceovers come in, characterizing Usher in a few words as “captivating,” “superstar,” and “seductive,” and quite simply, “sex.” After more hushed voiceovers and ambient drones, a four-on-the-floor beat develops, and synth strings form the backing accompaniment for Usher’s trademark vocals, which have not diminished at all. While Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis do some of the best production work on the album here, the song’s lyrics start the album off on an awkward foot with Usher’s typical club prowling: “You’re looking lonely, and you’re longing for a lover/You’ll know I’ll be here all night.”
This constant switch of theme and mood plagues the entire album, with only three songs truly embracing the theme of breakup and divorce: “Papers,” “Foolin’ Around,” and “Guilty.” “Papers” is likely the strongest of these, an R&B song with no frills and strong production. “Foolin’ Around” could easily be titled “Confessions pt. III”, as it simply states that Usher has been fooling around with mistresses, yet again, after apologizing on an album from six years ago. “Guilty” pleads with his ex-wife to not send him to jail, then features T.I., who just got out of jail.
If all of these songs are to be taken autobiographically, then Usher is indeed a classic satyr, but that is not relevant to the discussion of the music. Much of the production is surprisingly well-done, aside from one of the worst will.i.am tracks, “OMG”, in recent memory, where he decides to auto-tune Usher’s vocals over a recycled “I Gotta Feeling” disco beat. Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Lil’ Freak” is a surprising left turn for an Usher album, embracing the recent bisexual trend in pop music led by Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, it is hard to embrace these strengths on such a predictably unfocused album.