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Usher hasn’t seemed interested in making good music for some time now. Back when he put out Confessions, which feels like forever ago, he appeared to be taking his talent to new heights and evolving as an artist. But he’s made it clear with his last couple albums (Here I Stand and Raymond v. Raymond) that all he’s really interested in is sexin’ you in the club and making the songs to go with it.

Looking 4 Myself does nothing to change this trajectory (or should we call it a flatlining?), but it’s also hard to deny there’s a sort of brilliance to many of these soaring, super-synth dance club symphonies.

The Diplo-produced lead single “Climax” is particularly addictive with its electro-pulse backing Usher’s falsetto. The same can be said for the Pharell-laced “Twisted.” Songs like these and others (“Care for You,” “Show Me”) will move all but the most hard-assed among us.

Looking 4 Myself also further removes Usher from the R&B realm and even more decidedly into the purely pop. For R&B fans, this is a disappointment, because his talents are more than worthy of both. Usher just no longer seems interested in the influences of anything but what will give him the most radio play and DJ spin.

This album is so heavily produced that, despite being more than high-quality summer fun, it takes on a kind of lifelessness. Usher’s potent vocal instrument is put through so many digital layers it takes on a tinny quality.

He fails thematically too, with tracks like the backward-thinking “Lessons of the Lover,” where he advises the ladies that even though your man may constantly ridicule, curse and hurt you, it might just be worth sticking around. Lord help us if women are taking Usher’s romantic advice on the value of abusive relationships.

It’s not just vapid lyrical content that plagues Usher these days, either. Like Beyonce, there’s also a sort of tone-deafness to his crooning. Everything is bombast. There is nothing approaching nuance or subtlety. He’s either “twerking” you out or…well, mostly he’s just twerking you out.

None of this will or should stop a lot of people from really enjoying this material, as we all have for years. It’s really good for what it is, but this is a man approaching his mid-30s. Does he have nothing else on his mind or in his heart? On the title track, “Looking 4 Myself,” he acknowledges that he may have lost something along the way (“Walking with my head down/counting every step/hoping that the next one/Brings me closer to the man I was/Cause I was way better…”).

We probably shouldn’t look for depth from our pop stars. But if Usher is truly looking for his true self, he should try harder.

  Mixtape D.L.
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