Usher : 8701

Usher's personal vision shines through this excellent opus, featuring the smash 'Pop Ya Collar'...

Usher has pulled out a well-deserved success here – focused and passionate, this is not an R&B record designed by committee, but one with a sense of personal vision at work. As well as engaging up-to-the minute names like She’kspere and The Neptunes, he has relied on solid, established producers like Jermaine Dupri and Babyface to help mould the new, maturing Usher sound. Gone is the teen pop vibe of ‘My Way’, as Usher has co-written and co-produced an album that reflects his emotional experience.

Much has been made of a rivalry withSisqo, but Usher distances himself with a set that’s a million miles from the peroxide one’s commercial braggadocio. On the track ‘If U Want To’, for instance, Usher sings, [I]”If I want to, I can take you from your man”[/I], but it’s with a sense of insecurity and vulnerability rather than outright bragging. And stand-out track ‘You Got It Bad’ deals with the spectre of first love with passion, honesty and some raw beats. [I]”Everything that used to matter, don’t matter any more/My money, my car”[/I], Usher sings with feeling. He laces his fluid delivery with the verbal twists of street rap – on the funky call-and-response of ‘Pop Ya Collar’, for instance, or the ode to lurve-making ‘Twork It Out’.

Usher mixes in nostalgia with his groove. A self-confessed ’80s fan, he introduces touches of ’80s rock guitar and the minimal rhythm of ’80s hip hop. He also recalls the ’90s on ‘UTurn’ ([I]”I had a hot flat top/…the sound was Bobby Brown[/I]), and seals his wish to be a song-and-dance man with a track about his [I]own[/I] dance. Michael Jackson never did that. Versatility is the key here: staccato beats with mellifluous melody, rich slow-jams and edgy harmonies – but woven through with Usher‘s own perspective. A winner.

Lucy O’Brien