Usher’s had an identity problem for a while now. He went nova with 2004?s Confessions, a concept album about his own bad habits, then followed it up with two more overtly introspective albums that didn’t do nearly as well.
Blame the music biz collapse and the general recession, but it’s not terribly coincidental that his fifth album is titled Looking 4 Myself, nor that the title track is strutting ’80s pop-rock (featuring Luke Steele ofAustralia’s Empire of the Sun and the Sleepy Jackson), rather than the R&B or EDM of most of the rest.
Being lost means he can try new things — or as he puts it on bludgeoning opener “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” “I don’t want to do all the normal things that all these other normal dudes do.”
Like a lot of dudes who want to be out of the ordinary, he can be gauche: When he sings “We found euphoria” just before the trance synths go nova, it’s hard not to snicker and think about Brandon Walsh.
But some of the most willful stuff here is also the most striking. “I Care 4 U” is a dubstep ballad that works, “Sins of My Father” a rock-like epic (with a melody that sounds almost exactly like Neil Young’s “Crime in the City,” from Freedom) with his most resonant personal lyric yet, and the Diplo-produced “Climax” simply a masterpiece.
“Climax” may be the most daring piece of music Usher’s ever made, and it’s one of the very best.