For his eighth LP, Hard II Love, Usher finally seems to be focused. After years of not being able to replicate the runaway success of 2004 landmark Confessions while still collecting hit singles left and right, the dynamic performer buckled down for a full-length that’s actually worth sitting through.
Usher has consistently called upon a a whole squadron of producers to amass as many possible hit singles into a collection of songs – with the exception of My Way, which only utilized four producers. Confessions was the ideal result of that formula when the album went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide. Yet, everything after that project has fallen short and has lacked cohesion. Hard II Love (early-released on September 13) uses this same many-cooks approach, and once again manages to tie everything together.
The brilliant, falsetto-laden “Crash” remains a highlight on the album that marries the best of Usher’s R&B and pop sensibilities. Pharrell’s production appears on the minimalistic “FWM,” where we find the crooner revealing the thirst by singing, “Baby I can change, can you stick around? Fuck with me.” “Let Me” sounds like the counterargument to Rihanna’s “Needed Me” over a trap-inspired beat. All of them, while totally stellar on their own, offer a rock steady consistency from Usher.
The heart of Hard II Love is the eight-minute “Tell Me,” demonstrating the earnest delivery from Usher that he seems to reserve only for coital tracks. Except that on this one, when his vocals soar, it’s aimed more at the heart than the swimsuit area.
The minimalist and under-spoken quality of Hard II Love marks the first time since 2004 that an album of his binds together in such a way. That said, there are some missteps. But even with the unnecessary production of The-Dream and Tricky on the dated “Bump,” the regrettable Metro Boomin-produced “Make U A Believer,” and a few minutes from the intro, this sure sounds like the defining album of Usher’s current era.
Hard II Love is impressive because it shows an R&B vet who’s been around for two decades and has sold 43 million albums worldwide refusing to pander to the current landscape, and refusing to desperately grasp onto his glory days. R&B is being driven by the new generation, but Usher isn’t chasing them here. He abandoned EDM and house party tracks – a go-to for a guy like Chris Brown. Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and Miguel may be singing about the same topics as Usher, but their view is laced with drugs and alternative sounds. Usher has embedded his place in music so deeply that he’s now flying above any current trend.
Jon Reyes | September 16, 2016
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