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26 June, 2008@4:37 am

You have to imagine that at some time during his four-year absence, following one of the biggest club songs in the last five years (“Yeah” feat. Ludacris and Lil’ Jon), Usher was sitting on the couch watching MTV thinking, “Okay, Justin Timberlake, I see you.” While Usher kicked back and collected royalty checks off the Hitch trailer, J.T. kind of waltzed in and took his place as the millennial Michael Jackson with the Futuresex/Lovesounds LP and several offshoot projects. So, with “Here I Stand”, Usher makes his triumphant return. But is he looking to reclaim his crown as the king of clubs, or merely deliver an honest, introspective LP?

Surprisingly, Usher’s latest shows off a more mature, settled-down version of the man who went from innocent child singer to sex-addicted superstar. While the lead single to this LP, “Love In This Club”, suggests that sex is still his main priority, the album gives a far different view of Usher Raymond. Contending for R&B single of the year, “Love In This Club” has already reached the anthem level, as Pollow The Don’s slow-synth and Usher’s passionate cries for public displays of affection flawlessly blur the lines between crunk hits and slow jams. The addition of Jeezy asking the age-old, poignant question of “have you ever made love to a thug in the club with his ice on?” doesn’t hurt either. It’s what Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is to white people.

But this sadly is the only track of that caliber on “Here I Stand”. Coming out the gate with such a ridiculously huge song – one that perhaps tops even “Yeah” – suggests that perhaps he climaxed too quickly (or, instead, this song will pay his bills for the next five years). This isn’t to say that this is all he’s got – there’s plenty of other good songs on the album, but this is by far the apex.

Otherwise, Usher’s other club oriented songs are more groove oriented jams, in the tradition of Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder. “This Ain’t Sex” and “What’s Your Name” (feat. Will.I.Am) are two danceable party starters – both executed just fine – but won’t bring the house down like “Yeah” or “Love In This Club”.

Instead, much of the album is spent of topical slow jams, and at times landing in cliché territory. You can’t help but get into songs like “Trading Places” or “Something Special”, where he very suavely plays the seducer. However, when the wooing turns into whining, it feels like he’s playing the part up for all the lovelorn teenyboppers out there. “His Mistakes”, “Before I Met You” and “Moving Mountains” suffer from the depressing conversational style of R&B song that plagues urban radio all day long.

While we do see a more mature Usher on this record, such as on the N.Y.Centric “Best Thing” (feat. Jay-Z) or the short-lived “Prayer For You” (dedicated to his baby boy), for the most part, this is still fits the mold of a typical Usher LP. Like Confessions before it, everybody in the world might love that lead single, but only half of that crowd will give Here I Stand repeated listens. – Pizzo

  Mixtape D.L.
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