It’s been kind of a rough few years for Usher Raymond. His last album, 2007′s Here I Stand, while possessing a huge hit single with “In This Club”, only managed to sell 1.2 million copies in the U.S. This was a pale effort in comparison to his previous 2004 LP, Confessions, which hit a whopping 10 million copies in the states alone. Granted, the current *new* climate of the music industry plays a large part of this, but selling 1/10th of what an artist sold on their previous release is largely looked at as a failure within the industry. Couple that with the fact that Usher filed for divorce with his wife of two years and mother to his two children, Tameka Foster, things haven’t been easy for Mr. Raymond.
Raymond v. Raymond is a bit of a rebirth of sorts, in a title that reflects both his recent divorce and the duality within his character – that of wanting to be a family man and also a bottle-popping R&B superstar. Of the more personal anecdotes, we find the depressing “Papers”, where Usher fights within himself, eventually coming to terms with his inevitable divorce. On the lighter side of things, “Guilty” is a track that every man can relate to, where he and T.I. suffer the ills of doing the time without doing the crime, using the extended courtroom metaphor that fits in within the overall theme of the album.
Better yet though are the album’s collection of singles, all of which seem to hit the mark without fail. Sure, there is no massive “Yeah” type song this time around, but definitely a handful of tracks that will play on through the summer. The incestuous “Daddy’s Home” as a well written, catchy lead single, despite it’s creepy subtext. Meanwhile, will.i.am helms “OMG”, a sort of mid-tempo mashup of cool R&B and massive house music, loosely interpolating elements from Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400″, While it doesn’t quite inspire the legions of fist-pumping that you might find at your local sports arena / stadium, we predict the house remixes are imminent.
The abrasive “She Don’t Know” blasts its Bangladeshian horns in celebration of his newly “single” Facebook status, while Luda delivers a humorous verse, trying on Young Money flows for size. The true gem of the singles is the sultry “Lil’ Freak”, which finds Ursh over a knocking Polow The Don beat, while Nicki Minaj lives up to her name, helping arrange a three-way. The end result is like a dirtier version of ’07′s “In This Club”.
Strangely, the album does spend a little too much time in slow jam territory, as songs like “Foolin’ Around” and “Making Love (Into The Night)” are derivative of his earlier works. While Usher’s contributions to the genre are much better than anything Trey Songz recorded in the last year, too much of the album is spent in between the sheets. Especially considering that one of the album’s greatest uptempo tracks, “More”, was a casualty, banished to Itunes bonus track status. Despite this, this is some of Usher’s best music in years. While one cannot really expect him to transcend himself to Stevie Wonder levels of artistry, we know what to expect from an Usher LP, and it delivers on all expectations.
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