Usher - Here I Stand (2008)

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If 2004 wasn't the year of Usher Raymond IV, then it just wasn't the year of anybody. His fourth studio CD, the eponymous Confessions, sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, boasted a trio of Number One on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart and gave Usher a record-breaking first; the highest number of first week male R&B sales in Soundscan's 13 year tracking history. 

Given that level of success, many artists would recycle the same formula to replicate it, but in his fifth studio CD, Here I Stand, Mr. Raymond confidently pushes the boundaries and trades in Confessions' self-absorption for a new sense of reflection and growth.

If 2004 wasn't the year of Usher Raymond IV, then it just wasn't the year of anybody. His fourth studio CD, the eponymous Confessions, sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, boasted a trio of Number One on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart and gave Usher a record-breaking first; the highest number of first week male R&B sales in Soundscan's 13 year tracking history. 

Given that level of success, many artists would recycle the same formula to replicate it, but in his fifth studio CD, Here I Stand, Mr. Raymond confidently pushes the boundaries and trades in Confessions' self-absorption for a new sense of reflection and growth.

Not that Usher's foolish enough to stray from his expected hybrid of soul and hip-hop influence; the players have changed, in other words (Palow Da Don, The Dream, will.i.am), but the game stays the same. His trademark swagger is in full effect on "Love In This Club," "This Ain't Sex" and "Trading Places," a male domination fantasy on wax ("I'm always on top, tonight I'm on the bottom...when I can't take no more, tell me you ain't stoppin'.").  His player card is willingly surrendered in "Before I met You," and "Love You Gently" is one of the most sensually rendered ballads in his catalog since "Nice & Slow."

And yes, matrimony and fatherhood, two major components of his life as of late, season Usher's lyrical content and delivery. Instead of being glib about infidelity, the duality of it wears on his conscience in "What's a Man To Do." And instead of letting it burn in his rearview mirror, Usher attempts to repair a fragile union in the tender ballad "Moving Mountains." Another somber moment occurs in "His Mistakes," where Usher opts to walk away rather than be crucified for the first man's sins.

Ambitious and chock-full of star power (Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Beyonce), does ...Stand have the same continuity as Confessions?  Not quite. At 18 tracks (the final one is hidden), its overweening length may test the patience of even his most devoted followers, especially when some of the songs were better left on the cutting floor ("Appetite," "Lifetime"). On top of that, his Michael Jackson influence is still a bit too obvious. But ...Stand, if nothing else, proclaims that Usher Raymond IV is unapologetic about developing artistically and getting his grown man on with his new family in tow. It's a good look for Usher, and true fans will appreciate being a part of this intimate evolution process.

By Melody Charles
 
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