Trim its fat and this album showcases a new and exciting sound for Usher.
Natalie Shaw 2012
Usher Raymond IV found his niche early and stuck with it. He’s one of those rare pop stars whose personality seems to mirror his musical output. Whether he’s being a romantic sap or showing his way around an embarrassing chat-up line, he’s not been one to jump onto musical trends; Usher’s honesty is endearing, rather than a fad.
Actually this is only true up until 2010 when, like most other vaguely susceptible pop stars, he succumbed to the advances of David Guetta, will.i.am and Pitbull. Along with the VIP beats came a few brutal black holes of self-awareness – a point at which Usher became a mimicked version of himself. Instead of losing loyal fans, Looking 4 Myself sees him on a genre voyage retold by moments of musical discovery – remarkably, perhaps, its maker has compared this journey to Picasso’s blue period.
But for all of this projected self-worth, these 18 tracks offer too many anonymous cuts. The idea of an Empire of the Sun collaboration is far more interesting than the album’s title track proves to be, where Usher’s vocals are lost beneath a too-slight slice of indie-pop. But while "shuffle" and "skip" functionality exists, we needn’t get too het up.
The album’s lead track and gleaming star Climax is still out there on its own. Diplo displays rare sophistication and understatement in his treatment, never revealing a trick at once, instead giving the track plenty of time to develop. The song’s exquisite rising harmonies, teasing miniature bass drops and lascivious claustrophobia feel brand new, while Usher’s immaculately controlled falsetto has never sounded more enrapturing.
The Salaam Remi-produced Sins of my Father is outstanding. Usher’s slink here sounds sinister, for the first time, fearing he’ll fall under a demon woman’s deathly voodoo while slack, deep beats play out. The Pharrell Williams-produced Twisted is also glorious: it’s an unusual throwback to Stax on which Usher’s personality still rings out loud.
Tracks like this are proof that experimentation needn’t be desperate. It’s a shame then that there remains a need to include irony-laden Uptown Girl samples (Can’t Stop Won’t Stop), tasteless mentions of Trayvon Martin (Rick Ross’ rap on Lemme See) and laddish anthems (Numb).
Ultimately, Looking 4 Myself reveals Usher as lost within the genre pick ‘n’ mix as he ever was; but inbetween its shortcomings, this seventh album sees him beaming proudly through a new and exciting sound.