FFWD REW

Usher – Looking 4 Myself

RCA

There’s something inherently wrong with people who boast that they don’t care about pop music. Sure it’s one thing if you’re busy with other things and you don’t find the time to keep abreast with the trends. But if you’re the kind of person who turns up your nose at pop culture while embracing the safety net of cool that is Feist or Arcade Fire it’s really just an admission that you’re narrow-minded.

With that in mind it’s not too late to change so listen to me loud and clear — you need to give Usher’s new album Looking 4 Myself a chance. This release is the best pop record to hit shelves since Justin Timberlake’s Justified which was itself the best release of its kind since Michael Jackson’s Thriller .

I know you don’t believe me and that’s fine. From the awful aquatic henna-adorned cover art to the existential texting shorthand that serves as the title there are all kinds of warning signs that this album should be avoided. But don’t do it.

Prior to its release Ursh explained that he was exploring an idea of “revolutionary pop” wherein he combines different styles of music in the hopes that he’ll arrive at something new. He didn’t really invent anything new but this approach does mean that he’s belting out hits over all kinds of different things.

There are over 96000 people on Facebook who like “Anything with a good beat.” They’ll all be appeased by the top-notch production here though this is far from lowest-common-denominator pop. Instead these are forward-thinking highly creative sonic suites that touch on Ibiza-ready EDM (the absolutely perfect opener “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”) gentle R&B (“What Happened to U”) Miami thug rap (the Rick Ross-assisted “Lemme See”) beat-oriented hip-hop (the Neptunes-produced bangers “Twisted” and “Hot Thing” the latter of which also features A$AP Rocky) sun-kissed reggae (“Sins of My Father”) and even dubstep (“I Care 4 U”).

Before you shake your fist at that last one however realize that dubstep’s weirdo bass and busy rhythms work wonders in a pop context only serving to make the end result more enjoyable all around — just ask Britney Spears who absolutely killed it thanks to some wobbly bass on last year’s Femme Fatale . In fact it’s not dubstep but the appearance of mediocre indie star Luke Steele — who produced and appeared on the album’s title track — that results in the only skip-worthy moment. Other than that the music is a perfect backdrop for Usher to showcase his vocal finesse which is itself at a career high as he switches styles with ease.

Every track on the album however could fade away from existence in comparison to the ethereal tearjerker “Climax.” Produced by Diplo the synth-heavy slow-burner sees Usher at his most fragile pushing genuine human emotion and very real heartbreak through the lush production. One listen to “Climax” and your argument that all mainstream pop is devoid of meaning is proven invalid. Better luck next time buds.

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