"Raymond v. Raymond" by Usher

Usher
Raymond v. Raymond

LaFace Records
2010

Review

I asked my wife what she thought about this album. Me: "So what did you think?" She: "Um, it sounds just like confessions all over again. I mean, he's just airing out his dirty laundry again...he's talking about signing papers, about how he just can't stop cheating...I dunno...it's like, the same old stuff he's done before but just with new lyrics that represent that latest foulness he's done".

...and there you have it! Sometimes the best reviews, the most honest reviews, come from people who generally don't consider themselves critics. But for the full details, click on through.

I guess I'm guilty for wanting to be up in the club
I guess I'm guilty 'cause girls want to show me love
I guess I'm guilty for living and having a little fun
- Usher from "Guilty"

Oh boy...sometimes it's hard to separate the person from their art, isn't it? Ask Chris Brown, or Tiger Woods, or Jesse James, or Andy Dick....it's one thing to have something out there that is separate from you as a person. Then at least it makes it easier for the consumer to try to look at the product objectively outside of the person who is creating it. But it is really hard to do that when so much of yourself is in the product itself. Case in point, "Raymond Versus Raymond" by User. Already just in the title you have something that is indicative of either the internal struggle between the man and himself or even just a simple reference to the divorce proceedings that User has recently been through.

In many ways, I have to agree with my wife. This is not a reinvention of Usher as an artist. Usher is still a great singer. He's even a great dancer. But here you have more of what has been done before or what you would expect to hear on the radio. It's hard to hear Usher beg and plead for forgiveness and sing about the pain of having to go through a divorce on songs like "Foolin Around" (I know I vowed never to do this again but I guess it's the only thing that I'm good at) and "Papers" when the majority of the album is spent on glamorizing many of the things that he laments in the most personal of moments. However, in spite of what you may think of User the person, I have to look at the songs themselves in their own context - as difficult as Usher himself has made it. In that regard, things are just OK.

I have to admit I had some troubles with this one from a lyrical perspective. It's a bit too machismo for me to take it seriously and the lyrical delivery is too serious and not tongue-in-cheek enough for me to enjoy it. The best example I can give of this is "Daddy's Home" which is a competent song seemingly made for the radio but with some weird, weird, um, weird, lyrics:

Put that bottom up in the air...Daddy's home.

I know that the term "Daddy' is sometimes used in a sexual manner to refer "the man" in the relationship, but it just sounds - well - odd! What kind of daddy comes home and says but your "bottom" in the air! At least say "ass" then maybe it wouldn't seem so weird to me...ahem...Then later:

I ain't gotta do alot of flexin
Shorty you already know what it is
And girl tonight we gonna do a lot of sexin
Can't nobody do your body like this

And that's the thing. For the most part, songs here are competent but just so. There are moments where songs are elevated by the production in spite of the inane lyrics for example, "Little Freak". Man, are those some terrible lyrics:

I'm about to have a menage with these ladies
Look at these freaks at the bar
They looking for a start

..but the production is great. Same for track like "Pro Lover" and "Mars Versus Venus".

The two best moments on the album are "Okay" which is baby making music ironically about an anonymous hookup that is very artfully done, and the Will.I.Am assisted "OMG" that is currently blowing up your radio-box.

It shouldn't be surprising that a track produced by Will.I.Am is ready out the gate to be a hit. Again, lyrically, nothing special - but at least it isn't offensive (they do say "boobies like wow" though...). But musically, it's a very interesting track. Very pleasing to the ears, as it were and is. Probably the highest quality track on the album overall. Even the autotune doesn't bother me so much because it's used more for effect than to hide flaws in any vocal performances.

So what do you get here? For most part, you get competent R&B sold behind the promise of some serious soul searching that seems exploitive at worst and less than sincere and yet moderately entertaining at best. It's like the break-up album for celebrities fresh out of a two-week sex addiction seminar mandated by their publicist. I think Usher is a tremendous talent and here's to hoping he stops trying to sell an image and puts out a bit more, um, mature music. As to his personal problems, I wish him best. But musically, this is not his best effort.

3.643 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Monstar (05:01) 3
2. Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home) (03:44) 3
3. There Goes My Baby (04:41) 4
4. Lil' Freak (feat. Nicki Minaj) (03:54) 4
5. She Don't Know (feat. Ludacris) (04:03) 4
6. OMG (04:30) 5
7. Mars vs. Venus (04:22) 4
8. Pro Lover (05:03) 4
9. Foolin' Around (04:11) 3
10. Papers (04:21) 2
11. So Many Girls (04:36) 2
12. Guilty (feat. T.I.) (03:44) 3
13. Okay (03:15) 5
14. Making Love (Into the Night) (03:36) 5