This is imperfect, eclectic, trend-based, and scattered. And also easily Usher's most diverse and ambitious work. Yet, however thin Usher Raymond pulls the cloth of pop music, one thread effortlessly pulls together the album: his voice, a nimble instrument capable of Stevie Wonder-ful melismas, effortless Prince falsetto (e.g. "Climax"), the yelping Marvin Gaye gospelisms of "Twisted" and even full-bodied balladeer wails on "Dive" that would make Steve Perry of Journey blush.
But the songs do a more than passable job of diversifying Usher's portfolio of styles. "Twisted" sounds like Pharrell decided to artificially inseminate Clipse's "Grindin'" with a Jackson 5 song bolstered with very...uh...not Jackson 5 lyrics ("booty substituted, guess that makes it ok") and makes it work. "Climax" is one of the best songs of the year, a spooky, mournfully sexy slow jam about a relationship past its prime, sent into the stratosphere by a vulnerable falsetto chorus and Diplo's I'm-unclogging-a-drain bass/snare/metal-fork/burbling noise of a beat. "Sins Of My Father" showcases a destructively sexy bass groove and lyrics full of verbal voodoo. "Looking 4 Myself" invites Aussie rocker Luke Steele (of Empire of the Sun) to add some Hall & Oates-ian rhythm guitar and some vocals to the most fiendishly catchy song ever written about not being sure who you are, musically. Don't worry, Ush. In this case, the journey gets stuck in my head too.
However, not every song is a horizon-searching effort to find. Second single "Scream" has cringeworthy lyrics "getting drunk off the thought of you naked" and a repetitive, throbbing house beat that even David Guetta would pass on. "Lemme See (feat. Rick Ross)" is sort of formulaic. "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" finds Usher letting himself be headlocked by the Eurodance trend, rather than twisting it into something creative as he has proven he can. Even buzzing rapper A$AP Rocky's collab on "Hot Thing" falls disappointingly flat.
But bottom line, the songs are secondary to Usher's Sinatra-esque gift to bolster them to absurd heights with charisma, honesty and sheer, God-given vocal perfection.
Key Tracks: "Climax", "Show Me (fine, classic Eurodance done in a NOT inane way)", "Looking 4 Myself (feat. Luke Steele)", "Twisted" and "I.F.U" (an absurdly sensual bass/snare jam made even better by some of the best use of woodblock and violin since "Grindin'" by Clipse and "Bust Your Windows" by Jazmine Sullivan, respectively.)
Bottom Line: In a diverse, yet cohesive effort to discover his musical style, Usher settles on, well, absolutely everything and makes one of the most scattered and enjoyable R&B albums since Justin Timberlakes "Futuresex/Lovesounds"