For his seventh studio album, Usher has donned an array of disguises. Which is ironic considering the release is called “Looking 4 Myself.”
Is the Atlanta-based singer abandoning the slinky grooves and smooth R&B that made him a superstar in favor of chasing the mirrorball and the path of David Guetta? Or is he leaning back into his roots, rediscovering his upper register and seducing the ladies with a series of sex-laden come-ons?
It’s a bit of everything on “Looking 4 Myself,” an ambitious mishmash with a handful of noteworthy songs amid a lot of techno din.
The opening “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” is a chaotic mess of drum machines, synthesizers zooming 20 different ways and annoyingly repetitive lyrics that are either informing us that, “This is a jam, this is a jam,” or sneaking in some laughable sexual advances (“Let me be your body soap” – seriously).
With production by will.i.am., what else would you expect?
But a couple of songs later, on the ubiquitous “Climax,” Usher returns to loverman mode, crooning in that upper range about things that are obvious from the song title.
It isn’t until “Show Me” that an actual melody and chorus appear. The song is a frisky gallop that manages to be musically infectious without losing the techno edge that Usher is so eager to explore.
But a standout here come courtesy of Pharrell Williams, whose production coats “Twisted” with a distinctive Neptunes splatter of old-school funk and fresh beats. Pharrell also drops a quick, liquid rhyme on the song – too quick, actually, because his nimble word skills always elevate a tune.
What’s often missing on “Looking 4 Myself,” though, is Usher’s voice, a lovely instrument that is finally showcased on “Dive” – a Michael Jackson-esque ballad with strings and another attempt at sexual healing (“It’s raining inside your bed”).
Too often, the album is merely a thin series of boasts about showing his chest and taking private jets to France – even though on that one (“What Happened to U”), Usher is nursing a broken heart that not even seven Grammys can heal.
As he nears his mid-30s, one might expect Usher – a guy performing since he was 11 — to offer some sort of mature reflection. But instead, it’s the strobe-light-flashing, seizure-inducing frenzy of the dance floor that seems to be his destination.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene