Raymond v. Raymond
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/23/2010
I was always aware of Usher over the years, and every now and then, I’d hear his stuff on the radio and usually, I liked what I heard. Then, in 2004, he released the sublime Confessions album, and the dude won me over big time. I still play that disc frequently and I never get tired of hearing it. It’s the sound of a talented young man putting together a piece of work that finally fulfilled his potential and revealed some of himself in the process, too.
2008’s Here I Stand came along and just confirmed my adoration of this guy, because although it didn’t sell as well and got some negative reviews, I fell in love with it and still think it’s a brilliant album today. Based on all of this, you can imagine I was waiting for the new release to see where Usher was heading next. We read about his divorce, and the fact that he was writing about it would only add another element to his work that we fans hadn’t heard before.
So when it finally arrived in March of this year, I snapped it up, took it home, and played it repeatedly for three days straight. I repeated this process the following week because not only was I not all that impressed with what I was hearing, I was slightly confused as to the “concept” of the album being clearly decipherable. Now I know that one of the staples of today’s R&B artists is to collaborate with a cavalcade of writers and albums usually run to 15-20 tracks.
That’s a lot of work to do, especially if the goal is to make a consistently good album that harbors some sort of a narrative as well. Writers on Raymond v. Raymond (release number six for Usher) include trusted co-writers James Harris III and Terry Lewis, Jermaine Dupri, and Jermaine Jackson. All add some cool enough tracks to the album, but “cool enough” isn’t really great, is it?
That’s the main problem I have with this disc; it’s expertly produced and the slow love songs sound beautiful (“Mars Vs. Venus” is very Prince-like circa 1986), but the dance numbers never really lift off. Lyrically, tracks jump from the breakup (“There Goes My Baby” and “Papers”) to some serious shenanigans on “Pro Lover,” on which Usher declares “I’m tryin’ to add your name to my Hall Of Fame / Not just a player, I’m a pro.” I love the song, but it sends some mixed messages, as his PR department really pushed this thing as a divorce album, which in hindsight was probably a mistake.
More gems like “Papers” and “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)” help to keep things in the black for the most part, but like I said, there are some flat tracks that spoil any chance on this album being anything but okay. “OMG” is currently #1 on the Australian singles chart, but it has got to be one of the worst songs this guy has ever recorded. Generic beats, plastic arrangement, and the abuse of the dreaded Auto-Tune all make for a flat, uninspired song that is too clean and polished to live up to its dancefloor/bedroom potential.
Opener “Monstar” suffers the same fate and fails to inject some much-needed funk into the proceedings. “So Many Girls” fares better, but the momentum is killed off by the cheesy pop of “Guilty.” The album’s closer is a pretty cool take on “Into The Night” by Benny Mardones as again Usher puts on his romantic hat for the love-in that is “Make Love (Into The Night).”
So, really, maybe I was expecting too much but apart from a handful of cool, stripped-down and sexy tracks, there’s not much going on here that I haven’t heard before. Too often, the casual arrangements are too casual that they come off as dull, and Usher’s singing at times has him sounding bored by his own songs. All in all, I’m still a big fan and I still think Usher is one of the very best R&B artists out there today, but Raymond v. Raymond is far from his best work and I’m sensing a rather hasty follow-up is due. My advice? Have some time with it this time.