By Amanda Wicks
It’s been four years and a lot of personal heartache between Usher’s seventh studio album Looking 4 Myself and his newest release Hard II Love, which arrived today (September 16). It’s clear in that span of time Usher has not only done a lot of soul searching, but has also explored some of the newer musical styles that have emerged since his last project.
That’s not to say Hard II Love doesn’t come with straight up Usher moments. But, rather, the 15-track album feels split right down the middle. The first half shows off new sides to the artist, who is clearly dipping his toe into more contemporary styles, while the latter half sees him to return to form with a series of songs that show Usher doing what Usher does best: make people sensual as hell. Here are the five best songs on Hard II Love.
At a staggering 8:29, “Tell Me” doesn’t feel like it should fit on an album already packed with other tracks. It’s a slow, winding jam that begins with Usher crooning in his distinctive falsetto while a languid beat keeps pace in the background. This is a pure bedroom track like the kind Usher rose to fame on, and it builds into a passionate crescendo that shows off his vocal range. “Tell Me” isn’t about a booty call, it’s not about a millennial hookup, this is the kind of grand sexual love classics like Al Green and Marvin Gaye sang about. “Tell me that you wanna make love,” Usher insistently sings on the chorus, as spacey synths take this not only to another level, but another universe.
“No Limit” featuring Young Thug
The album feels like it walks a line between sexy songs and sexier songs, but on “No Limit” Usher and Young Thug tag team listeners with a fun R&B number that picks up the pace, ditches confessions of love or loss, and deals instead with big baller business. With the meter set up to create a fun staccato delivery when Usher sings “I see Mama murder that,” the track uses his vocal prowess to accentuate the song’s rhythm and uses the song’s rhythm to accentuate his vocal prowess. When it comes to spending big, “No Limit” is this generation’s answer to making it rain.
This song is a curious one. From Usher’s very first lyric, he sounds like he’s stretching himself to borrow from Drake’s current style. His affected way of singing–which sounds as though he’s parroting a Caribbean accent not his own–and the way the song’s production doubles certain words to accentuate the beginning of a lyric feels straight out of Drake’s current wheelhouse. As a result, it feels foreign to Usher’s repertoire. And yet, even though he’s wearing clothes that aren’t necessarily his own that doesn’t mean he can’t make them look good. It’s slow and moody and builds in all the right places.
Move over “Bump and Grind.” Usher is clearly scouting out a future spot on the sexy booty songs list. He’s contributed songs to this kind of style before between “You Make Me Wanna” and “Love in this Club,” but with “Booty” he’s making a strong case as to why it’s time to rethink grinding songs. So many entail silky vocals and a strong, slow beat, but with “Bump,” Usher offers listeners a bigger bounce feel. The song samples Luke’s “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown),” splicing and slicing it so it’s nearly unrecognizable, but paired with Usher’s updated beat and his quick paced delivery, listeners are sure to find a new favorite in this track.
There’s a reason “Crash” was the first single Usher premiered off Hard II Love before he announced any other details. Not only is it a powerful lyrical song that details the heartache Usher experiences from a doomed relationship, but melodically and rhythmically it beautifully conveys all that pain as well. Usher’s voice, of course, is right there, breaking and cracking and straining against the struggle, attempting to fight his human nature but failing with every turn. “Would you mind if I hold onto/ You so that I won’t crash?” he sings on the chorus. Usher somehow makes heartbreak feel sexy.