Most singers who begin their careers as teens don’t continue to produce hits into adulthood. Particularly in the fickle world of R&B, performers often find it difficult to remain relevant through constantly shifting fads.
Usher is one of a select few who’s beaten the odds, attaining successful sales figures each time out. Still, the experienced entertainer, now 31, has to walk a fine line between trend-consciousness and cutting-edge style in order to compete with younger counterparts.
As a result, Raymond V Raymond is an at times appetizing, other times dry, batch of tunes. The production skills of proven hit lockers Sean Garrett, Danja, and Rico Love induce a fair share of head-nodding and booty-shaking. This is evident in the snazzy arrangement of “She Don’t Know” and the percolating electro-spice of “So Many Girls.” Less satisfying are the lyrical copouts. Take, for example, the unimaginative premise of “Lil Freak” or “Daddy’s Home." ‘If you’re really comin’ with me, you let her put her hands in your pants,’ he sings of club hook-ups on “Freak”; while a characteristic line of “Daddy’s Home” goes, ‘Girl, tonight we’re gonna do a lot of sexin’…You just float that bottom up in the air.”
Vocally, Usher is up to par throughout Raymond V Raymond. The problem is that no one song comes close to the authentic passion and fullness of past hits like “U Remind Me” or “Yeah!” The most frequent starting points are easy, overused storylines and commonplace beats that don’t give the singer a lot to run with. There are, however, a few exceptions: “Monstar” is intriguing in its off-center arrangement and insidious melodic structure; and the #1 R&B hit “Papers” is classic Usher in its revealing, true-to-life words and heartfelt, church-infused sound.