Even some of the greatest pop singers can have their moment of weakness. Mariah, Madonna even Michael have spawned at least one weak release. So ultimately it would be right to excuse someone like Usher for his disappointing last album Here I Stand, which in no-way followed up nicely to Confessions, one of the best R&B albums of the last ten years. With an alleged new lease on life, we now have Raymond vs. Raymond, the singer's sixth album. It's only a slight improvement from Here I Stand, still lacking the swagger that I liked so much about Confessions.
What drags down the album a few notches is that Usher claims the title represents a story of the different sides of his personality, which would suggest that the album embraced some kind of depth, when in fact there's as much depth as Mariah Carey's 1999 album Rainbow (which ironically he featured on; heavy hip-hop beats and slow jams and 1 or 2 sensitive moments but doesn't amount to the story the artist claim), it isn't as much of an insult as it sounds--the comparative links between Mariah and Usher's careers are astonishing. Confessions was essentially Mariah's Emancipation of Mimi (both the biggest selling albums of their year) and Mariah's E=MC2 was ultimately Usher's Here I Stand (both weren't nearly as good as their predecessors both in quality or sales wise).
There are some good moments on here, in fact the first five tracks kick of the album well. "Monstar," which rocks a cool '70s influenced sound towards the middle, "Hey Daddy (Daddys Home)" and "There Goes My Baby" have a smooth kinetic bass lines, duped with synths and the rest of it. It sounds the kinda R&B The-Dream would do. "Lil Freak" isn't bad, sounds very "I Can Transform Ya." First UK single "OMG" is cool, rapid synths, bass lines and lots of chanting and is likely to be the albums first solid hit.
However, the rest of the album is underwhelming. Nothing really sticks, which is exactly the same problem Here I Stand had. The slow jams ("Mars vs. Venus," "Pro Lover," and "Okay") are just not that good and neither are most of the upbeat songs on here, "She Don't Know" and "So Many Girls" are particularly bad. There is the odd song within the last half of the album that's not too bad, such as piano and bass fronted ballad "Foolin' Around."
Raymond vs. Raymond is a disappointment. It's probably just another nail in the coffin, that Usher just can't spawn a solid body of work anymore. Too bad.
Best: OMG, Lil' Freak, There Goes My Baby, Foolin' Around