I stand corrected.
When Usher’s “Raymond V. Raymond” came out earlier this year, I predicted that after a solid first week, it was going to flop hard. Well, I guess I have egg on my face. Thanks to the inexplicable success of the will.i.am-assisted hit “OMG”, “Raymond” has already outsold Usher’s (much better qualitatively but not as pop-friendly) previous record “Here I Stand”. In order to keep the momentum going (and maybe to hoodwink Usher’s fans into buying material that was left on the studio floor?), “Versus” has arrived. Obviously, the template was Lady GaGa’s “The Fame/Monster”. Take a previously existing hit album, release an EP and combine it with that album (also taking pains to include it separately so that your fans don’t feel totally ripped off), and hopefully the ducats start flowing. Of course, what works for GaGa doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, and I should also note that “Monster” contained top-shelf material that was more than likely earmarked for GaGa’s next album, and it stood up well independent of “The Fame”. For the most part, “Versus” sounds like an audio dish of reheated leftovers.
My biggest issue with “Versus” is that Usher, who appeared to have been maturing into quite the capable soul singer, sells his talent short with a series of vapid pop anthems, with production that will be out of date in two or three years. In interviews, Usher has called this album a reflection of where he is as a single father, but I don’t know many single dads in their thirties who go out to clubs and have random sex every night, know what I’m saying? Songs like “Love ’em All” and “Hot Tottie” (which is mercifully saved by a verse from Jay-Z) just seem beneath where Usher should be lyrically right now. I’m not gonna even get into how I feel about perfectly good singers using Auto-Tune except to say I hope this fad dies SOON. When Ush throws his Auto-Tune fixation away, he should also toss any attempts at rapping. “Get in My Car” begins with Usher screaming “Skeet Skeet Skeet” Lil Jon style and only gets worse from there.
It’s interesting to note that “Versus”‘s two best songs appear on other albums. The midtempo “There Goes My Baby” is the most legitimately soulful song on either “Raymond” or “Versus”, and sticks out even more in light of songs like the Pitbull (?) collabo “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love”, which is the most pop-sounding record Usher has made in his entire career. I must admit that I actually like the “Somebody to Love”, which pairs Usher with his protege Justin Bieber-it’s quite telling that one of the best lyrically constructed songs on this album was written for a 16-year old to sing.
“Versus” isn’t a total disaster-“Lay You Down” and “Lingerie” pack legitimate heat, despite wearing Prince’s influence on their collective sleeve, but 4 solid tracks (and the aforementioned Jay-Z cameo) out of 9 does not a good, or even solid album make. Over the past 10-15 years, many pop/soul artists have found themselves regressing musically and lyrically out of desperation in order to maintain their audience (see: Carey, Mariah or Jackson, Janet). The limelight doesn’t stay on you forever, and Usher would be wise to preserve his legacy by making music that his original fan base finds meaningful instead of arbitrarily chasing pop trends.