Album review: Usher's ÂRaymond v. Raymond'
RAYMOND V. RAYMOND
Usher's 2004 "Confessions" was the best kind of breakup album: Assumed to detail the singer's relationship with TLC member Chili, the drama was juicy, and the moving on was fun, thanks to plenty of models, bottles and dynamic production.
The singer's new "Raymond v. Raymond" also explores a romantic parting of ways, but this time the inspiration is Usher's split from wife Tameka Foster, which involves lawyers, children and other intense grown-up things. If Usher were a country singer, the themes would serve him well, but things often get a little heavy for the pop universe.
Songs about the trials in Usher's marriage can be a bit tedious. Celebrity gossip is a lot more comprehensive than when "Confessions" came out, so many of the details aren't revealing so much as a rehash. "Papers" is catchy enough, but most listeners already know Usher "damn near lost my mama" and has "been through so much drama." "Guilty" has a fresh, burbling synth line and a T.I. feature, but also the not-so-startling revelation that a relationship can be taxed when one of the parties involved really likes to party.
Still, Usher manages to make some great music, especially when he appears to be getting his bearings back as a single man and heartthrob. "Pro Lover" is a crackling player's anthem -- "Guilty" without the guilt -- and "Okay" is a fast-paced ride. Seems every R&B album needs a track about threesomes these days -- here it's "Lil Freak." Producer Polow da Don creates a twisty, slightly off-kilter beat, Usher provides the come-hither vocals, and Nicki Minaj takes the edge off with her cartoon voice -- and offers the important reminder that everybody loves Raymond.
-- Sarah Godfrey
"Lil Freak," "Okay" "Pro Lover"