Growing Pains

Usher matures but still hungers for a taste of oversexed club fare

May 27, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Review C

In the four years since Usher's last CD, 2004's ubiquitous smash Confessions, the R&B superstar has settled into family life. The longtime Atlanta resident, 29, got married and became a father. His new album - Here I Stand, in stores today - echoes some of that personal growth. But for the most part, Usher is still the lusty R&B lothario he's always been - crooning sexed-up tunes in a yearning, charismatic tenor that has gotten stronger over the years.

Although he's a better vocalist these days, he often stumbles as a songwriter. Several of the 18 tracks on Here I Stand - all of which Usher co-wrote - teem with clumsy lyrics and idiotic sexual metaphors that would make R. Kelly proud. The lines may be too risque to reprint in a family paper, but Usher sings them with an earnest, honeyed soulfulness.

However, his impressive tone and smooth falsetto leaps still don't help the tritest tunes of the bunch. When he's not begging for sex on the dance floor (as he does on the album's hit single, the juvenile "Love in This Club"), Usher is pleading for it at home.

When he's not being "imaginative" with the innuendos, the singer is direct, as on "Love You Gently," where he pointedly asks, "How 'bout some foreplay?"

But here and there, his personal growth glimmers in the music. "Something Special," for instance, is a slightly swinging number where the artist extols being married and in love. With Usher's swooning, multitracked background vocals, the sweet sentiment of the song feels sincere.

The same is true for the title track - a glowing ballad of devotion with a memorable, swaying melody.

Featuring production by longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri, Polow Da Don, the Dream, Bryan-Michael Cox and others, Here I Stand is uneven and overlong. There's nothing as immediate as "Yeah!" or as transcendent as "Burn." Most of the tracks are squarely aimed at the wasteland that is commercial urban radio. The record also seems intent on maintaining Usher's reputation as a singer of oversexed, synth-heavy, club-ready hits.

That's too bad, because there's much more to his talents. Tentatively and too sparingly, he reveals that on Here I Stand.

Suggested downloads: "Moving Mountains," "Something Special," "Appetite" and "Here I Stand"

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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