It’s record number eight for Usher Raymond IV, the 75 million record selling artist, and one of the main figureheads of R&B for at least 10 years now. His last effort, Looking 4 Myself, was released in 2012, when EDM was alive and well. So while that album could get away with using a dance sound, we’re living in a very different musical landscape now. Fortunately, Usher’s new album, Hard II Love, has shifted with the times also.
Perhaps a little predictably, Usher has followed suit with Rihanna, Drake, and the other urban big hitters, who have been championing minimal, progressive R&B of late. In fact, the influence of Drizzy is tattooed across this record, particularly when Usher switches from singing to melodic rapping, and the odd n-bomb that you wouldn’t naturally associate with Mr Raymond IV.
Nonetheless, it turns out that his use of a trap-hip-hop-R&B sound isn’t a bad thing. Opening song, Need U, begins with Usher’s trademark exasperated muttering. In fact, his fans will be pleased to hear many of Usher’s best characteristics in this track – his velvety crooning, soothing multi-tracked backing vocals, and a generally laid back singing style with plenty of dramatic pauses that he has always utilised so well.
Missin U also begins with Usher speaking, this time in conversation with an unknown lady, as he explains to her he wants a woman with 'a nice thin waist, fat ass, and soft little lips'. Always worth knowing. It’s a cleverly produced track – minimal trap in the verses, and then a rousing, big-band style chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on Broadway.
Songs like Downtime and Crash rely on a limited palette, mostly just a sub bass, the beat, one synth line, and the many voices of Usher being multi-tracked. Lyrically, it’s nothing new – mostly from start to finish, Usher is letting us know the many pros and cons of being a master romancer, as he has done on all of his albums. Of course, it would be churlish to expect a major change of tact from such a renowned superstar.