*** (out of four)
It's easy to underestimate the magnitude of Usher's pop stardom. He doesn't draw attention like Lady Gaga, put out music as often as Rihanna, or boast as rabid a fan base as his protegé Justin Bieber. But Usher is, in fact, a very big pop star, the kind with iconic hits that cut across generations and demographics. Sure, you might think of Usher as the R&B artist behind “Burn,” but there are plenty of people who like him better for dance songs like “OMG”. Usher has a lot of different people to please. He's that kind of pop star, and it shows on his latest album, "Looking 4 Myself."
The easy critique of "Looking 4 Myself" would jump to the plodding, MGMT-style indie pop of its title track and point out that his wide appeal has left even Usher confused by his place in the pop canon--and that this expansive, genre-hopping mess of an album is the result. A more truthful take, though, is that this album acknowledges the name “Usher” stands for a range of ideas and revels in that fact.
While the eclecticism results in a few missteps, it mostly yields an excellent and diverse set of songs that work to pass as R&B while acknowledging the electronic imperatives of current pop radio. The album – somewhat surprisingly – comes together most brilliantly on the crystalline, Robyn-like synth-pop of the Swedish House Mafia-produced “Numb” and the gorgeous, tension-filled “Climax,” a clear standout as one of the best songs of the year. Oh, and don't worry: there's still a fantastic strip-club-ready R&B anthem with Rick Ross (“Lemme See”) and one intense, metaphor-heavy sex jam (“Dive”).
"Looking 4 Myself" tries out a lot of different ideas – it's definitely an album made for the singles-driven iTunes era – and it's a credit to Usher's pop star pedigree that he mostly makes them work.Copyright © 2015, RedEye