Usher “Raymond vs Raymond” Review

I'll admit I'm an Usher fan, so I gave him a pass for his last album "Here I Stand", I called it his happy album and every artist who plans to be around for some time deserves one. The new marriage, the babies, he put on some weight and moved around a little slower, cool. But since that last album, he's been divorced, Trey Songz has ascended and what I thought would be a great follow-up album has left me uneven and debating burning my fan club membership card.

I blame this album on the ladies, yeah I said it, you all abandoned him and supported the smack talk about his ex-wife on the gossip sites. Then, you pull off the ultimate betrayal by proclaiming Trey Songz as the heir to the throne, so now Usher has to fight for his title instead of just making a great album. As a result, we have an overt effort to regain that sex symbol status and not an album that a 31-year-old recent divorcee should give to the fans, well, not totally.

I wasn't asking for this to be Usher's "Here, My Dear", but when "Papers" was released last year, I anticipated a semi-autobiographical album, something adult. Then he started popping up on songs by Gucci Mane and DJ Khaled and I was convinced that he was listening to the whispers that he had fallen off. Then, "Hey Daddy" was released and I thought cool, especially when the video premiered without wack-ass Plies. The momentum was lost when I heard "Lil' Freak" with Nicki Minaj and I could sense the desperation in a song about hooking up with chicks at a club for a ménage-a-trois. But there's part of me that still likes that song a little bit, hey, I'm 31, but not recently divorced and the father of two little boys.

When an advanced release of "Raymond vs Raymond" appeared in my inbox I was still excited to listen, because I love music and was eager to hear if the singles were mere promotion and if the album had real depth. The first track "Monstar" begins with an intro in which he says "There's three sides to every story, one side, the other side and then the truth", so I knew what was to come as that song moved into a decent dance groove. But much to my disappointment, the album doesn't dig too deep, it has as much depth as a song written by The Dream.

I immediately skipped "So Many Girls", "OMG" (ft. Will.I.Am) and the God-awful "More" (yes the song with the infamous leather Capri pants from the NBA All-Star Game) and "She Don't Know" (a year late on the Bangledesh track). I was annoyed by "Guilty" (ft. T.I.) and at that point I realized that was half of the album, so there had to be something worth listening to, right? OK, I liked "Paper" and "Hey Daddy" and can tolerate "Lil' Freak", but despise five songs, so the album is a dud.

Not quite, "Okay" is one of those smooth grooves where he brings his sexy back, as is, "Mars vs Venus" produced by the legendary Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. These two tracks are good, but I never want to hear them on the radio or see them performed live, good album songs. "Making Love (Into the Night) has a pop feel to it, so of course it sucks to a Soul man like myself, but I can listen to it. "There Goes my Baby" is a standout song to me, it's smooth, with a grown man feeling to it, I played this one three or four times in a row. I was a little leery before listening to "Pro Lover", because it's produced by Tricky Stewart and I just imagined some "trip-hop" beat, but I guess that's Will.I.Am's lane now, so Tricky kept his tricks to a minimum and they gave us a decent song.

Since the days of Holland-Dozier-Holland and the Supremes, a producer/artist marriage has been important to the growth of many artists and the benefit of the fans. Michael Jackson had Quincy Jones, Janet had the aforementioned Jam & Lewis and Usher has had Jermaine Dupri. I'm not sure if there was a falling out after "Confessions" or if Usher has tried to expand on his sound or if J.D. is too busy trying to rebuild Janet's career, but they haven't worked together enough on the last two albums, but when they do, the results are fantastic.

On "Foolin' Around" Usher explores the consequences of not being faithful to his vows and takes a look in the mirror with the line "Traded memories for moments/Trade love to be lonely/Guess that's just the man in me…". Once I stopped thinking about my life in that context, I was wondering where the rest of these songs were, maybe we'll get a quick follow-up album, one of these deluxe edition re-releases, but I'm looking for more substance, less style, less sex. I believe Mr. Raymond forgot that “Confessions” was so big because we believed he was purging himself on record and we related to the struggle, not selling us sex. But, he's gonna go on tour, dance, grind, take his shirt off and the women will swoon, but the real fans will wait for the next album…

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