Monday, July 2, 2012

Usher Hasn't Found Himself, Yet

Two weeks ago, Usher released his seventh studio album, Looking for Myself. Though the critics loved it, the record doesn't seem to quench our thirst for some Grade A POPaid. Usher is such an interesting case. He's been around the bends, and we're still aware of him, so clearly, he has been successful and worked diligently in order to remain relevant. Still, he doesn't possess the artistic cache of a Jay-Z or Justin Timberlake, nor does he have the glossy performance icon status of a Beyoncé. Maybe that's why he's tapping the talent of artists like Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun, who Jay and Bey have worked with in the past. Personally, the things that separate someone like Justin from Usher is the fact that JT exercises a great deal of autonomy over his own work - he produces, and he's produced for other artists (Rihanna, Leona Lewis, etc.) without the helping hands of Timbaland, thereby proving his studio chops. When working with Timbaland and the Neptunes, Justin pushes them to create new sounds. The whole dance craze began with the FutureSex/LoveSounds album. Usher, however, seems to make the most of current trends (by working on dance tracks with hit-maker Max Martin, for example) as opposed to circumventing them in an effort to chart a new path. Here are our thoughts on his album:

I Care For U - Those who appreciated Climax will undoubtedly love this track- I Care For U is an excellent midtempo R&B song in a decent dubstep power-package.  Thankfully the characteristically corny chorus ("I, I, I care for youuuu") is overshadowed by an incredibly ballsy drum & bass beat.  Kudos to Usher for actually singing about something more mature than his usual sex/I am sexy/let's have sex lyrics - but the real praise goes out to producer Danja for his work on this one.  I wish he had done the whole album.  

Twisted ft. Pharrell - Pharrell & Usher are longtime collaborators, so it's a big, fat shame that they couldn't have pushed each other stylistically. Twisted is a great song for 2007, but today it's a filler track, one that feels particularly out of place on an album so purposefully wacky & inconsistent.  Still, Twisted stands out.

Hot Thing ft. A$ap Rocky - Out of all Usher's "indie" crushes - Luke Steele, Swedish House Mafia, Klas Ă…hlund -  the one that sounds the most natural as a guest star on Looking 4 Myself is rising rapper A$AP Rocky.  Where the aforementioned collaborations sound strained & unnatural, Hot Thing is charismatic & smooth.  "I'll take you to see URSHER," A$AP spits, cool as a cucumber.  Likewise, Usher is in his element... wailing about finding love in a sexy woman with a "booty that jeans can't hold."  Let's hope this is a bridge built for the two artists, because I'd love to hear more from A$AP - though he is not currently struggling for exposure (see: Lana Del Rey's latest music video) 

Dive - Penned and produced in part by Rico Love and Jim Jonsin, this is my favorite song on the record. Usually, I'd  be turned off by a song so explicitly slow and sexual. Most such songs simply capitalize on shock value, but Dive stands out from the pack. The melody is beautiful. The chime-bell synths and guitars are so warmly atmospheric, perfect for a rainy day in. They capitalize on the juicy lyrics, "I see the walls are looking like they might precipitate / Until I'm in so deep it's up to my waist / But I promise girl, I ain't afraid / It's raining inside your bed, no parts are dry / Loving makes you set wet, your legs, your thighs / And ever since we first me, I knew that I, I knew I was ready, baby, to take that dive." Never has making a woman cum sounded so sexy and romantic to a gay man.

Numb & Euphoria - These are the two tracks on the album written and produced by Swedish House Mafia. They're the two songs I was looking forward to most; up until now, no star has produced a track with SHM. Therefore, this was a great way to see if the DJing trio could translate their style to a POP audience. To be honest, I was expecting something as good as when Calvin Harris combined his talents with Rihanna's voice on We Found Love. Maybe my expectations were too high, as a result. While neither of the tracks are bad, they don't sound like hits. They're not very melodic, and I wonder if this was intentional on the part of SHM in an effort to maintain an "indie" character. Both feature the usual sex/love-related lyrics, but in a more generic, colder way than Dive. I'll drunkenly dance to both at the clubs, but I don't see myself listening to them on repeat. 
Scream - As Max Martin's sole contribution, this track surely represents an attempt on the part of label (and Usher) at a hit single. Unfortunately, it's not that great. It simply sounds like a bad knock-off of Martin's last collaboration with Usher, DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love, which I loved when first released. I truly enjoy the work of Max Martin and his protege Shellback, so I was disappointed when this song wasn't music to my ears. DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love was originally written and produced for Rihanna, and maybe that's why Scream, which was always intended for Usher, isn't as good. The 24-year old POP diva possesses more star power than this industry veteran, so material pitched to her is likely of a higher caliber.


Gregory & Minna

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