The Climax of Usher Raymond
Usher Raymond, R&B specialist, one-time potential Michael Jackson successor, U S, H E R, R A, Y M, O N D, artist of the best break-up album since 2004 after cheating on TLC’s Chilli. Where did it go wrong?
Since 1993’s Call Me A Mack, Usher has been what I could almost call, carefully curating what should have been one of the most prolific careers of all time. His first album was released when he was just 16 years old (ironically the same age as Chris Brown when he released his debut). Cementing himself as the new artist to watch in the golden age that was the nineties.
His second album, My Way was just one pedestal for him to climb, offering timeless gems after a musical break of four years. Under the flawless wings of Babyface’s LaFace Records label, he managed to make an album with singles that to this day find underwear removed and dance floors filled.
From there, he continued his success of heartbreak with 8701’s (the title sharing the date of release) U Got It Bad, U Remind Me as well as filling dance floors when songs U Don’t Have To Call and had everybody doing the U-Turn. As you can see, no “you” was left untransformed by Ushers star power. Lest we forget, Pop Ya Collar. I still don’t know the words, but when it comes to dance the ad-libs and the hook serve me well.
Then, 2004’s Confessions lifted him into R&B legend status. Irrefutably Usher’s best album and musical era with an unmatched influence. Ask yourself: Have you heard a song titled Confessions since it was released? The rare album to have no tracks that are misses with the audacity to have My Boo as a bonus track. At that point, he could do no wrong, even with the at-the-time supposed infidelity laid bare in his lyrics (later found to be inspired by Jermaine Dupri’s relationships).
He continued his streak with 2008’s Here I Stand which by itself was far from a slouch. But with the peak that was Confessions it was bound to pale in comparison no matter how slight the change in reception complexion. Ultimately however, it was deemed a commercial failure, even with Love in This Club, Trading Places and Moving Mountains in tow.
Then came Raymond V. Raymond and the Versus EP, neither of which I find favour in in terms of quality, yet it had relatively favourable sales. Up until this point, Raymond had been with LaFace Records for the entirety of his career, but for his next album, he’d move to RCA Records.
Thus, came what should have been another chance in Climax. Produced by Diplo, they set out to create “revolutionary” music; and they more or less succeeded. Climax was the biggest and best song Raymond had released since about 2008. Quiet Storm mixed with the easy to hate EDM genre was a genius move which i wish had lasted for the entirety of the album that preceded it. Unfortunately, for the most part it was a forgettable affair and Climax was the best song on that album. It had the chance to be something truly ground-breaking, a new and original sound, but instead (like Chris Brown) it was squandered in a bid to be “experimental” when it could have simply been great.
Experimentation isn’t a bad thing by any means, but when it comes at the sacrifice of something which potentially could have been recognised in the vain of Confessions it makes me wonder if it was worth it. My conclusion is that is wasn’t. It saddened me that the only other songs on the album that remotely resembled its best song were I Care 4 U and any other similar songs had their bass-lines firmly planted in 140 bpm.
Alas, during his 4-year hiatus he released the first single with what seemed like a step in the right direction with, Good Kisser and was followed by She Came To Give It To You featuring Nicki Minaj with a similar sound. The former was received better commercially than critically and the latter, performed worse. I Don’t Mind the last single release of 2014 performed the best (I have no idea how, my opinion on the song being that it is perhaps the most dry and empty single ever conceived by Raymond).
No Limit, originally released on Tidal in 2016 was the first offering from Hard II Love (originally titled Flawed). It backpacked off the current trend of trap imbued, rolling hi-hat abusing R&B of the 2010’s and was successful because of it. Plus, the video choreography was impressive to say the least. Crash came afterwards. Another radio hit, and again the video was very good. I enjoyed the album for the most part and it was his best received album in years, critically however and not commercially. At any rate, Tell Me is a beautiful song that deserves it’s place in the Hall of Slow Jammery.
I find that above all, there was a consistent sound and quality about the project. While not touching the heights of his golden years, it was still something that could whet the appetites of fans. Regardless of its quality, I feel like now, even though Usher “sounds the best he has in over a decade” that may just be because we don’t expect a lot from him anymore.