2:27pm PT by Kelly Payton
Usher's 'Looking 4 Myself': What the Critics Are Saying
Usher released his latest album, Looking 4 Myself, on June 12. The 33-year-old Tennessee native’s seventh album, and latest since 2010’s Raymond vs. Raymond, has already resulted in three singles with “Climax,” “Scream,” and “Lemme See.”
The 14-track album (18 on the deluxe edition) features artists such as Rick Ross, Pharrell, Luke Steele and A$AP Rocky. The collection has received mixed reviews, and has recently been made into a Laughable Lyric list from The Huffington Post.
Billboard’s Jem Aswad states that in the interviews surrounding the release of Looking, Usher discussed the wide variety of music that influenced the album—from electronic dance music to Mumford & Sons. Aswad says, “while there’s a prominent EDM sound on many of the tracks (folk, not so much), the sound has fused seamlessly with R&B, making Looking 4 Myself, at its best, a truly next-level soul album.”
The album, Aswad says, has the warm, organic feel of R&B and deep pop hooks, but also has the “pulsating low-end and shimmering keyboard flourishes of EDM.”
USA Today critic Steve Jones gives the album 3½ out of four stars saying Usher's brand of R&B relies more on electronic music sensibilities than hip-hop. Jones says, “where he once filled the dance floor with the crunk-fueled 'Yeah,' he achieves the same effect with synth-driven 'Scream' and energetic 'Euphoria.'”
Jones also mentions that while there’s plenty of explicit sex mentioned throughout the album ("Lemme See"), listeners will be surprised by "Climax" delivering something other than what the title suggests.
Usher also has a serious tone in the album, with songs such as "Sins of the Father" and "Lessons for the Lover."
Randall Roberts of Los Angeles Times awards the album 3 stars saying, “Revolutionary? Not so much, but it’s weirder than anything Lady Gaga’s done.” The album, Roberts says, includes key music that draws on a word of styles. The album even features “the sticky doo-wop melody ripped from Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl.’”
“The album gets stranger from there, though, and 13 songs and an hour later Usher has made a convincing case for his revolution, even if it never fully comes to pass.”
A not-so-impressed Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe says, “One track on Usher’s latest album, out Tuesday, is credited to nine songwriters. Another two tracks feature eight. No wonder the urban pop superstar is looking for himself.”
“As such, many of the songs here could just as easily be plugged into an album by any artist who traffics in making the kind of pulsating Euro-disco that conjures images of sweaty, beachside Ibizan nightclubs where white curtains billow around VIP sections drowning in bottle service — like, say, Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez.”
Rolling Stone’s Jody Rosen offers the album 4½ out of 5 stars saying, “The only thing that rings false on Usher's seventh LP is the title: If there's anyone in music who doesn't have an identity crisis, it's Usher Raymond; the theme here, such as it is, is his own versatility.
The Washington Times’ critic Andrew Leahey gives the album three saying, “[the album is] funky and futuristic, with adventurous pop songs that set their sights on the dance floor one minute and the bedroom the next.”
Leahey comments that Usher uses familiar methods in tracks such as “Scream,” likening it to the style of “OMG” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love.”
He says that slow-jams such as “Climax” are more rewarding, however, “as they pull the spotlight away from the album’s all-star producers and place it back on Usher’s voice.” Leahey adds that it’s nice to hear Usher without auto-tune.
Leahey does frown upon some of the overtly sexual lyrics and mentions of high class living saying it “reminds us that everybody, even kings, could benefit from a little humility.”
Melinda Newman of HitFix gives the album a B+ saying Usher "certainly isn’t at a loss when he’s searching for musical styles." Newman calls Looking his "most adventurous album yet." She says the album is "not so much a reinvention as an exploration of different styles by a confident artist secure enough to abandon past formulas."
Newman describes the album as inventive and stylish, saying it could be rewarded come Grammy time.
Be warned, though. She mentions that the album "opens with the weakest tracks, but then picks up steam and moves from strength to strength" so listeners may have to give Looking a chance.