Album: Usher's Looking 4 Myself (RCA)
One of the first things Usher says on Looking 4 Myself, his seventh album (out today), is a question, delivered offhandedly in third person. “Will he do it again,” the multi-platinum singer asks, as if—after nearly 20 years in the business—he still wonders whether he can deliver another set worth repeated listens.
It's a fair question. As a performer whose catalog is rooted in R&B, a traditional (if not sometimes boring) genre that rarely aims for the avant-garde, Usher managed to find a new groove in 2010 with the release of Raymond v. Raymond. It was a well-balanced offering that held down his “true R&B” fans with cuts like “There Goes My Baby” and “Papers,” but blew up by riding the Euro train with will.i.am's unapologetically huge “OMG.”
If Usher dipped his toe in the pool of global sounds on Raymond, he dives right in on Looking. Hardly any of the 14 tracks on the standard version of the album (there are 18 on the deluxe) sound like conventional R&B. Everything is splashed with a hint of something spacey or foreign.
“I Care 4 You,” a creeping confessional where Usher’s a man in love but unable to show it, plays like a trippy video game where the hero is trapped in a swamp of indecision. Though its a few beats-per-minute short of a typical club cut, “Show Me” is still a huge song that promises to fill up dance floors with its tooting synths and rolling drums. “Dive” is a sexy slow-winding cut, damp with yearning, that's powered by Usher’s falsetto.
At first listen, the album’s lead single “Climax”—a quiet take at techno by producer Diplo—sounds like a song for lovers. But really, it’s the best breakup cut of 2012. This “climax” isn’t orgasmic, it’s about being on the other side of the relationship’s peak. In fact, most of the tracks on Looking offer deeper meanings than the obvious. But even the surface-level songs like “Lemme See” and “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” are gems.
Usher’s new mantra, “Evolve or evaporate,” is an aggressive one. Fortunately, he continues to explore. Looking 4 Myself ensures that he won’t be disappearing any time soon.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)