USHER: Raymond V Raymond (Label: Jive, LA Face)

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USHER: Raymond V Raymond

If we’re to believe the publicity that accompanies this – Usher’s sixth studio album – the thirteen tracker is meant to document the superstar’s recent divorce from his wife – and some-time stylist – Tameka Foster. A question of art imitating life then, but in this case the art isn’t turbulent or cruel enough to echo what really went on. We’ll never know the full story, of course, but it appears that in February of last year Tameka went into a coma during a cosmetic surgery procedure. Thankfully, she recovered but Mr. U promptly filed for divorce and the case (now settled) was proceeding whilst he was making the album. Simultaneously Usher was also going through a bitter split with his mother who had been his manager. Quite a storyline then and the singer is big enough to admit in the spoken intro to the album that there are three sides to every story – “one side, the other and the truth” but which side we get here – as we’ve already stated – we will never know. In fairness we get possible message songs like ‘Guilty’, ‘Mars V Venus’ and ‘Papers’ but how accurately they depict the shenanigans is a matter for conjecture… so, maybe best to just judge the album for what, in essence, it is – a contemporary musical artefact and as such it’s a splendid example of modern R&B … and if that’s your fave cup of musical cha, you’ll love it. We know soul heads have their reservations about the whole R&B thing but if they investigate they’ll find a couple of Jam and Lewis productions that might make them reconsider. Both ‘Monstar’ and ‘Pro Lover’ represent very ambitious and interesting productions for the dynamic duo but strip away the gimmickry and in the former you have a neat little beater and in the latter you have a very steady, danceable plodder. Elsewhere there’s input from people like Will-I-Am, T. I and Ludacris and they are exactly as you’d expect -slick, glossy and right in your face. For ballads there’s a broody ‘There Goes My Baby’ (on which Usher proves again that he is a great vocalist) and a very sweet ‘Okay’. But the cut that best sums up the album is the big, big ‘So Many Girls’. Like Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’ and the man’s own ‘Yeah’, it’s perfectly crafted in the pop/R&B idiom and bound to be a money-spinning smash and when you get right down to it that’s what making albums like this is all about. With ‘Raymond V. Raymond’ Usher reconfirms his status as the king of modern pop R&B.
(BB) 3/5