Usher is a household name all around the world. He's earned it - his brand of R&B blended with pop has made him a sensation. You know you've made it in pop when you're a coach on The Voice. His eighth album Hard II Love is here, and you'd expect it to show a masterful show of his skills. Sadly, that's not the case.
Hard II Love is far from his magnum opus. If anything, it might be one of the weakest records in his discography. This sprouts from nothing more than the fact that the album is just plain underwhelming. Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra says on an interlude following the abrupt ending to opening track 'Need U', "Everybody wants somebody that's got confidence. He should make me feel safe, make me laugh. Everything about him should feel sexy. His walk, his talk. He's gotta be effortless, you know? Not trying too hard." Unfortunately for Usher, he is literally the opposite of that.
It doesn't help that he puts on a bad-boy attitude immediately after that little conversation piece. You'd think something a little more sincere than "Everybody wants somebody that's got confidence. It's in her attitude, the way she walks, nice legs. She's gotta be beautiful. Nice thin waist, fat ass. Oh, and those soft little lips." That's exactly how the following track 'Missin U' begins, and the writing isn't any better than the start. The instrumental has some edge to it, which is good, but the writing is so blatantly uncreative and overly self-confident that it's just annoying to listen to.
These bad-boy attempts don't stop there. He's trying so desperately hard to be Drake on a lot of tracks. He even got Future on this album (on 'Rivals', which really isn't too bad). 'No Limit' sounds like a satire, though it's regrettably a very serious track. Instead of Future he has Young Thug on this song, and he's okay. It's encouraging to see Usher's hip-hop roots come back, but this isn't exactly the way for that to happen. He channels the most annoying sides of himself in the thick of the album; 'FWM' is just plain obnoxious (we've heard this song in about 300 different ways in the past). Just when you think his attitude could get worse, he drops the line "All I think about is bitches" in the most hilariously retrospective way he could've possibly delivered that line. Instead of saying something meaningful, he just revealed his own dickishness in one line.
There really isn't much to praise on this album. There are some sweet moments, some okay moments, but everything's swallowed in a storm of bad moments. 'Downtime' is the one song that's wholly enjoyable, its sweet vibes and ending harmonies making something beautiful that gives the song a surreal feeling. The background vocals of the chorus are lo-fi add a lot of dimension to the atmospheric piano, the great chorus leading into a brilliant set of vocal harmonies that make way for a hip-hop influenced second verse. The song ends with that beautiful array of harmonies and the pulsing bass synth, ending the song on a blissful note.
That song is the only one that's strong from start to finish. Maybe "strong" isn't the right word... "evocative" is more correct. Lots of the tracks have their good moments, but they all fall short in some way or another. It's hard to find these moments between standard and forgettable tracks like 'Crash'. 'Tell Me' towards the end of the record has a great build up... but that build up happens over the course of eight minutes. It's way too slow of a build up to justify it being eight minutes; its like he didn't understand how to make the song progress in a fashion that he wanted it, so he spread it out for a long time so he could get what he wanted. There's some nice guitar in the title track 'Hard II Love', but again it doesn't amount to anything. The album's ending is perhaps the most anti-climactic song of all; 'Champions', the album's lead up single, closes it out, and the potentially great and chilled experiment becomes the worst possible ending this already boring album could have.
Usher is the R&B king. That begs the question: what happened here? Why is Hard II Love so... hard to love? Usher got too cocky. It's not right to assume his personality, or anyone's, for that matter, but he builds his own image of himself on this record, and it's not kind. It's trite and downright boring. Usher may be losing his crown soon.
Favorite Track: Downtime
Least Favorite Tracks: Mind Of A Man, FWM, Champions, Need U
Rating: 42 / 100