Verdict: 2 / 5
At the age of 34, and after 15 years in the industry, one of the bestselling R&B artists of all time, Usher is still looking for himself. In his seventh album, titled Looking 4 Myself, he searches high and low through a number of songs referring to his bling, elaborate parties and love for easy woman, all written to trendy radio inspired EDM beats. In case he hasn’t realized it just yet; he is looking in all the wrong places.
It wasn’t too long ago when R&B was a genre filled with music about falling in love and discussing relevant personal, political and spiritual issues. You need only look back as far as Stevie Wonder, Prince and Marvin Gaye to realize that somewhere along the lines R&B became less powerful and less important, mostly due to the poor subject matter. 2012 hasn’t been the kindest year to star Usher Raymond. He has been involved with a mean custody battle with his ex-wife over their two sons, and has also suffered the loss of his 11-year-old son after a water craft accident. Yet, even through all this struggle and hardship the seven-time Grammy winner chooses to ignore his current circumstances and hurt, focusing on dancing and partying it up on Looking 4 Myself instead. The title then rings completely false. Usher isn’t looking for himself. He is looking for another hit album.
In a mash of synths and EDM beats by an impressive team of producers and collaborators, Usher conjures up a sound that he refers to as Revolutionary Pop. Don’t be alarmed, there is nothing remotely revolutionary here. Instead the self-confessed ladies’ man, who is honestly clueless about romance, croons his way through lyrics like ‘You can call me papa/you my freaky mama/Mami be my data’ in Chris Brown style. It’s clear that Usher has been keeping an eye on Brown, borrowing inspiration here and there for some of his own works. And while Usher has certainly stretched his vocal abilities on Looking 4 Myself, often contributing beautiful falsetto to the warmer ballads, most of the album falls into the 130bpm category.
Climax, the third track on the album, is the best and most soulful performance Looking 4 Myself has to offer. It peaks the album early in the tracklist, while the others fit neatly into a blend of electronic sounds, sound effects and bass thumps. “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” and “Scream” are aggressively seductive club songs similar to his previous hit “Yeah!” and ponders whether to take a shawty home with him on Lemme See. Usher delivers a 60s’ retro-soul inspired track with the assistance of the Neptunes with Twisted and sings “I’m looking for myself, all my life I’ve been searching, and somehow I’ve come up empty” in the title track.
Usher might maintain cultural relevance, due to the continuous progression in his sound, seizing the opportunity to mimic current trends, but he has a mighty long way to go before growing up into the artist he has the potential to be. All of this means nothing, of course, to the millions of young fans flocking to buy the album.