Music review: With 'Looking,' Usher in strong form
In the last decade, Usher, along with Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, was part of an elite group of pop acts who released back-to-back albums that were epic and masterful.
He kicked off the new millennium with "8701," an album full of R&B gems that became enduring staples. Though it's nearly impossible to follow an album like that with something even better, he did with "Confessions": The 2004 blockbuster was his superstar-making album and still ranks as one of the top 10 best-selling discs ever.
These days, Usher still racks up hit singles ("OMG," "Love In This Club" to name a few), but he hasn't produced an album as brilliant since.
And he still hasn't. But the entertaining "Looking 4 Myself" is his best attempt at making magical music following "Here I Stand" and "Raymond v. Raymond," lackluster albums saved by a few sterling songs.
Usher's 14-track set is a multi-genre affair: There are mid-tempo grooves like "Show Me," as well as bedroom R&B ("Dive"), rhythmic hip-hop ("Lemme See"), upbeat pop ("Twist") and electro-dance numbers ("Scream," "Numb," "Euphoria").
But the be-all-things-to-all-people approach doesn't always work: "Scream," the current single produced by Max Martin, is like everything else on top 40 radio. Like many of Chris Brown's Euro-flavored jams, this one could easily be performed by another act. It's flavorless and generic words normally not used to describe Usher's music.
Usher sounds better on "Numb" and "Euphoria," both written and produced by Swedish Mafia House and Klas Ahlund, the main producer behind Swedish dance singer Robyn. Still, those songs don't come close to "Yeah!" or even "Without You" with David Guetta.
The producers on the album range from Pharrell to will.iam, though Jermaine Durpri, the mastermind behind much of "8701" and "Confessions," is missing (clearly a reunion is needed, stat).
Still, overall, "Looking" is a hit: The title track, which features Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun, is amazing, Rick Ross adds to the greatness of "Lemme See" and "Lessons for the Lover" is Usher doing R&B like it should be done.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "I.F.U." a bonus track that stands for "I'm freaking you" has a dope beat, Usher's falsetto and hand claps that mirror Rihanna's "Birthday Cake."
Usher, "Looking 4 Myself" (RCA).