“There are three sides to every story. There is one side, there is the other and then there’s the truth.” With an introduction like that it is clear that the last few years in the public eye for reasons other than music have taken a toll on Usher. The turbulent courting and marriage and the messy divorced that followed included, family disputes, paternity requests, and countless other claims which all led Usher Raymond to unfamiliar territory. Raymond vs. Raymond is Usher’s attempt to put it all in perspective and reenter the public eye with what made him famous to begin with – Music.
After the spoken word introduction, the album musically kicks off with “Monstar.” The track itself is a testament of what is to come on the album. New-age production, seeing the singer try new things vocally (Auto-tune and other studio tricks) and delivery wise as well. Unfortunately on “Monstar” the enormous drums drown out the soft vocals. The next album cut “Hey Daddy” which was the first single, is classic Usher giving his attention to the ladies. It’s one of Usher’s poorer lead singles, but it still does a respectable job commanding attention. The highlight of the album follows with the well-crafted and delivered “There Goes My Baby.” It’s a refreshing effort that sees Usher channel his Confessions glory. Usher sings effortlessly over the albums most organic production. The track is clearly the best song on the album, from a songwriting standpoint. Rarely does an artist deliver a double meaning loaded track like “There Goes My Baby” with such elegance.
The sure hit of “Lil Freak” is up next. Producer Palow da Don impressively flips Stevie Wonder's “Living for the City” while Usher and Nicki Minaj bless the track. The effort is more Trey Songz than it is classic Usher, but he is able to sell “Lil Freak” with a sense of class that escapes many of his peers. The track will surely be in radio and club rotation for months to come. The will.i.am and Ludacris guest spots that follow are forgettable tracks even though they may be future singles, while “Mars vs. Venus” see’s Usher approaching his best.
Mid-way through the album, the listener can’t help but feel a disconnect between the singer's spoken introduction and the music that followed. So there are signs of the “truth” that he mentioned throughout, he spends the majority of the time on classic Usher topics over top of trendy production. He does it better than most of his peers, but the false sense of exposure is tough to swallow. In fact, not until track 10, “Papers,” does Usher outwardly address the Raymond vs. Raymond-implied divorce topic. Lyrics like “I’m losin my mind, cant figure out who’s wrong or right / I know it’s you I love, but then I also know it’s you I don’t like” show Ushers mindset about his recent public breakup. When he sings, “(I done took) all I can take but u leave me no options girl” toward the end of the track and follows it with a chant inspired “I’m ready to sign them papers,” Usher successfully creates a modern-day divorce anthem.
The very next track Usher returns to his safe zone with “So Many Girls.” The track features Lady Gaga like production and is pop first and foremost. “Guilty” featuring T.I. follows and is above average track. It’s good to here T.I.P. featured after his year hiatus and he blends in well with Usher. The album concludes with the sexy “Making Love.” The listener can’t help but feel that Usher could make these types of songs whenever he wants. It’s truly one of his strong suits as an artist, being able to deliver material in such a convincing manner.
The album will undeniably produce a track that ensures Raymond vs. Raymond’s legacy. It’s not Usher's best work by any means, but its good moments are strong. It may not satisfy the public’s desire for the aforementioned truth but it should do a bit to quench their thirst. One thing is for sure and that is R&B with Usher is more exciting than R&B without Usher.