Since Usher is unabashedly willing to bare his soul to us, I feel that I too should offer my own confession: in an ironic twist of karma, my CD burner went on the fritz and ruined two perfectly good blank CDs in the matter of minutes. One contained no files but was apparently full, and the other recorded the songs with no audio. And so, this review will be conducted on my good, but not infallible, memory.
(This is the part where you tell me to just go out and buy the damn CD, and this is the part where I ignore you.)
I've always liked Usher, so I felt kind of bad for him when the comparisons started. No, not to crazy ol' Michael Jackson, but to Jackson's protégé, Prince of Pop Justin Timberlake. There are, of course, worse people to be compared to, but in a town where one-of-a-kind is the key to longevity, it numbered his days considerably. Who was copying whom? Was it Usher copying Justin, with his falsetto singing style, or was it Justin ripping off Usher, with his limber and sexy moves? This was one debate I was determined to stay out of, but after hearing Confessions, I could see how these comparisons were realized.
The CD can be summed up by several categories:
Songs That Sound Good at First But Progressively Get Annoying: "Throwback," "Burn," "Superstar"
Songs That Sound Suspiciously Like Justin Timberlake Collaborated: "Truth Hurts," "Bad Girl," "Take Your Hand"
Songs That Have Silly and Repetitive Hooks and/or Choruses: "Truth Hurts," "Bad Girl"
Songs That Made No Sense To Me: "That's What It's Made For"
Songs About Fame and Money and Sleeping With Women Because of Said Fame and Money: "Superstar," "Simple Things"
Songs That Are So Slow They Might Put Me To Sleep: "Simple Things," "Do It To Me," "Can U Handle It?"
Songs That Sound Like "U Got It Bad" But Are Apparently Not: "Burn"
In Confessions, Usher is a more "mature," more "grown up" version of his former self. Or so the critics say, as I've never owned any of his albums to compare. There are some retrospective, meaningful tracks on the CD, but they are few and far apart. And then there are your usual R&B tracks, as interchangeable as the next catchy song to hit BET. Usher would have done better this time around had he infused as much fervor as he did on the CD's best track, Yeah!, a club-friendly collaboration with hip-hop artists de jour Lil' Jon and Ludacris.
Usher is just one of a slew of recent artists to produce a revelation break-up album, joining the likes of his arch nemesis, Timberlake. His much-publicized break up with TLC member Rozonda "Chili" Thomas left much speculation for what could have gone wrong. It is questionable whether Usher tries to set the record straight or merely uses this as an emotional outlet. But whatever the case, a few songs about "mature" subjects does not necessarily make a "mature" album.
One of the better tracks on the album, Confessions, Pt. 2 is perhaps the most speculative song on this 17-song compilation. A slow song with a strong beat, it talks about Usher's indiscretion with another woman, which leads to his confession to his current girlfriend that he might have gotten the other woman pregnant. So did he or didn't he? Is that why his relationship with Chili failed? We are left to guess, but it does make for a pretty good song. (FYI: It was rumoured that the break-up resulted from their age differences - as in, she was ready to settle down, and he wasn't. And, apparently, his grandmother really really liked her.)
Follow Me is old school Usher at his best, another whimsical slow track with sweet lyrics. Throwback and Caught Up (no one ever said Usher was good at naming his songs) are also strong songs, although "Throwback" is better suited for a night of cuddling, while "Caught Up" is better served at your nearest club. All of these songs are trademark Usher - strong vocals and sexy lyrics that will have you melting in your seat.
But then Usher mixes things up a little by throwing in some questionably raunchy tracks. And it's fitting, considering the industry that he's in. On That's What It's Made For, Usher is apparently referencing body parts. And he's really sweet about it: "Figured I'd hit it and quit it just one night / Got so good to me doubled back twice / I must have been out of my mind." At least he's responsible enough to have a line or two in there about using protection. Still, if any song started off like that - and I don't care if it's a Barry White song - it would never put me in the mood for what Usher is doing to that girl in the song. Do It To Me also follows in the same vein, albeit in a less explicit way. The beat is slow and inconsistent, though, so don't expect to be enjoying it too much.
Bad Girl is a song about Usher's need to get with a bad girl. The rap hook is simple but works. Ultimately, it's a fun song but too typical to stand out. This some may perhaps get the award for most repetitive song on the market - for six lines, it is unjustifiable why this song clocks in at over five minutes. But the award for throwaway chorus in a song has to go to Truth Hurts. Again, Usher overuses his falsetto way too much, and explores the dynamics of cheating in a relationship - as in, she cheated on him and he wants the truth. But then he veers off in a different direction and sings, "I've been blaming you and I'm the one doing wrong / I'm gonna go on my guilty conscience / Is the real reason why I wrote this song." So did she cheat, or is he fabricating the whole thing? Did he cheat? Did they both cheat? I. Just. Don't. Get. It. And then the chorus implores us to sing along: "Bah bah bah bah bah / Sing it with me now / Bah bah bah bah bah." And on and on it goes.
Confessions is a good album, but it gets boggled down by too many dragging ballads. The shining tracks on the CD are the tracks that Usher probably wishes I wouldn't like - the faster, more upbeat songs with strong bass lines. He's probably a ballad man at heart, which is nice unless said ballads would serve better as elevator music than as defining your career. He may have grown up, but he should stick to what he does best - which he obviously forgot when he made Confessions. ¤ C.Ho.