Looking 4 Myself
Many, if not most, musicians who hang around long enough eventually feel the need to embrace this word in their quest to stay relevant. Just ask Madonna. Or Bono. Or Lady Gaga, for that matter, who has turned perpetual reinvention into an art form. Indeed, the pace of change and the reality of so many competing musical micro-genres these days demands that artists pay attention to what's happening around them musically—and integrate emerging styles.
Accordingly, Usher has hit the stylistic reboot button on his seventh album, Looking 4 Myself. In an interview with Reuters, he said of his creative process, "It was d‑‑n near a rebirth. I felt open and creative because I didn't have anything in my mind. At some point, after making music for a long time, you have to find very new creative and innovative ways to do what you love." The result is a musically diverse album that melds pop, contemporary and vintage R&B with a wide variety of electronic dance music influences.
If there's one thing that definitely hasn't changed, however, it's Usher's lust for the ladies.
The title track says that when we find true love, it's like looking in a mirror that reveals who we really are ("I said I'm looking for myself/And I still can't find me/ … In order for me to find me/I had to find you/ … It's like, you look in the mirror/And you see the person that you truly love"). On "I Care for U," Usher assumes the clichéd role of the emotionally repressed strong-and-silent type as he confesses that he really does care for a woman, even if he struggles to put his feelings into words.
"What Happened to U" implies that fame and fortune haven't been as satisfying to Usher as a relationship was with a woman he loved before his massive success.
In her review at atlantablackstar.com, Annsleigh Thornton writes, "'Sins of My Father' … incorporates sounds of Motown with deep reflective lyrics that disclose the promiscuity of his biological father. Usher sings about the long-lasting effects of his father's sins, and how he now battles with containing his sexual urges. Usher mentions that his father wasn't around and because of his father's absence, he now struggles with sexual relationships." OK. I'll take her word for it in this case. That message may well be in there, but it's fairly challenging to mine the meaning quite that precisely without outside help. Here's what Usher actually sings: "Oh, it's the sins of my father/He left a debt to his son/To pay the girl who's a mother/Collect the one, let me run, no/But she didn't make me pay for it with my money/I paid for the sins of my father."
So what exactly are the "long-lasting effects of his father's sins"? If this album is any indication, it's a full-on embrace of all things sexual. Outside of "Sins of My Father," Usher's approach to the subject—as has generally been the case on his previous albums—continues to be the more, the merrier.
"Can't Stop Won't Stop" bears a title that says it all—and lyrics that say even more than that. (They're erotic enough that the better part of wisdom says to leave them out here.) On "Scream," Usher compares the effect of seeing a woman unclothed to being inebriated. "Dive" takes sexual immersion metaphors to explicit depths. And "Lessons for the Lover" makes light of relational conflict by suggesting that sex is enough to patch up any rough spots in a relationship ("So we'll just scream 'til we start making love/ … And we'll forget about it in the morning"). "Let Me See" mixes wine and casual sex (with references to various sexual positions).
"Show Me" celebrates an all-night dance party as Usher calls for round after round of drinks and scoffs at the notion of responsible indulgence. "Have another round and just enjoy this party," he spouts. "Ain't no limit, no such thing as too much."
A handful of profanities pop up, including a partially bleeped f-word. S-words are, curiously, sometimes partially censored, sometimes not.
Usher has moments of reflection in his journey to self-discovery. Moments when he realizes how much a particular woman means to him. Moments when he realizes that his relationship with his selfish father may have damaged him. Moments when he seems to long for something more than just satiating the flesh.
Trouble is, those moments are counterbalanced by other moments. Moments in which Usher seems more than satisfied sexual saturation—giving little thought to conscience, morality or the well-being of the women his songs objectify.
In that sense, Usher hasn't reinvented—or found—himself at all.