R&B star Usher’s sixth album is about divorce, right? Well, not exactly. Sure there are references to Mr. Raymond’s split with his wife, but despite its allusive title, Raymond V Raymond is an album of club bangers, radioplay efforts, and disappointing moments that are relatively uninspired by Usher’s marital conflict.
Here’s the real question: does Usher serve up some summer jams while peppering in a pensive R&B moment or two? Yes, he does. Whether he’s turning up the heat with Ludacris on “She Don’t Know” or getting straight nasty with hot ticket Nicki Minaj on “Lil Freak”, it’s pretty obvious what he’s trying to do here. Besides the title of the album, there’s little pretense that this record is anything more than a vehicle for tracks that will dominate the airwaves.
On a few songs, Usher seems to be trying to be at least a little creative, like on track one, “Monstar”, with its electro-pop feel a la Prince riding a Michael Jackson Unbreakable-era beat. Some of these experimentations fail miserably however. “Mars Vs. Venus”, with its oddly planned title inversion of a Blueprint 3 track, where it feels like the 6/8 time signature needs a DJ to crank back the BPMs so Usher can fit in all the words from his diary. Then there’s “Pro Lover”, which despite being a decent song, feels like it was ripped straight from John Legend’s playbook. Not necessarily a good look for Usher — and what’s with his biting of the Folgers coffee line “best part of wakin’ up” for track “Okay”? Awkward.
It’s this middle section of Raymond V Raymond that takes a turn for the forgettable. Even buzz single “Papers” loses its shine over time and it’s not until Danja drops the staccato synth on “So Many Girls” that the album regains the favor of the club. One more pop tune joins the party before Raymond fades into the night and that’s the accessible “Guilty” featuring a verse from rapper T.I. on recent release from a halfway house. This track is teed up to make a summer splash with it’s jabbing four on the floor synth part that is like a younger (albeit less likely to be voted homecoming king) sibling of Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”.
Raymond V Raymond is undoubtedly better than 2008’s Here I Stand — which, for the record, was painfully overt in its seriousness and fresh out of goodness once “Love In This Club” ran it’s course. Even if Usher might have failed in not attaching an appropriate emotional depth and maturity to its title, Raymond V Raymond is upbeat and fun for at least a handful of tracks. In this regard, all concerned should be thankful that instead of elevating the persona of Mr. Raymond and his familial dissolution, he opted for the one that’s “guilty for wanting to be up in the club”.