Usher: Raymond vs. Raymond

With Raymond vs. Raymond, Usher makes his first purely commercial album and, in the process, makes the worst album of his career.


Raymond vs. Raymond

Label: Jive
US Release Date: 2010-03-30
UK Release Date: 2010-04-26
Label Website
Artist Website

There are three important things one must recognize in order to properly understand why Usher's latest album, Raymond vs. Raymond, is his worst.

1. Confessions really was not all that confessional. But promoting it as such did make it a huge commercial success.

2. Here I Stand was a damn near flawless album, with 8 perfect songs ("This Ain't Sex", "His Mistakes", "Lifetime", "Will Work for Love", "Trading Places", and especially "Love You Gently," "Revolver", and the title track) and at least another 4 or 5 pretty good songs. It was a huge artistic leap forward that managed to transform the R&B king into a stone-cold soulman. And that was a good thing.

3. Here I Stand failed commercially for one reason, and one reason only: his fanbase hated his wife. Period.

Now, Raymond vs. Raymond is an album that was created as if the three points I raise above are not true. That they are true is what makes listening to this cynically commercial and desperate album such a tremendous disappointment. Before this album dropped, I would have said that Usher was the most consistently brilliant pop star in a generation, able to perfectly marry commercial ambition with superb songcraft.

That was before this album, though. To be fair, there are some nice moments here -- "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)" and "Fooling Around" are pleasant, if forgettable, and "There Goes My Baby" features some nice falsetto work from Ursh -- but most of this album feels like an artist struggling to hold onto relevance. Clearly, aging out of the industry's targeted demographic has got Usher shook. So he apes Trey Songz' tasteless R. Kelly schtick on "Lil Freak", featuring the latest terrible female rapper, Nicky Minaj. He just ends up sounding like a dirty old man. At 31, that's just not a good look. Then there's "OMG", the latest incoherent madness from The song manages to be both dull and interminable. And "She Don't Know" is the pretty much the exact same song as Beyonce's "Diva" (so much so that Ludacris name checks her). Again, not a good look. Usher's eye is so glued to the charts that I wouldn't even be surprised if "She Don't Know" is the next single. There is simply no other reason for its inclusion here.

The most interesting songs work because of great production, since no one seemed to pay much attention to melody or using Usher's terrific vocal abilities this go-round. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis basically save the album from complete ruin with their three songs: "Monstar", "Pro Lover", and "Mars vs. Venus". "Monstar" is the best of the three, and it's also the best song on the album, by far. It is monstrous and melodramatic -- but it's also compelling. It actually sounds similar to Jimmy and Terry's early work for Janet, and that's a very, very good thing. In addition, Ursh's singing is urgent, present, and flawless. That "Monstar" opens the album and there is nothing to rival it is a real shame. The only song that comes even remotely close is "Guilty", which works because Usher's singing is unadorned. Danja's track for "So Many Girls" is easily his best work since Trey Songz' "Wonder Woman", but it basically sounds like a reject from Justin's FutureSex/LoveSound. Just not a good look.

What's most frustrating about Raymond vs. Raymond is that it replicates the most tasteless and least admirable aspect of the Confessions era. It exploits his personal life for profit, selling you on the notion that you are going to get a peak into Usher's inner emotional life even though you are not, and it does it with some of the most aggressively misogynistic and silly lyricism that Usher's ever sung. He essentially boiled Confessions down to its worst elements and released it -- 14 variations of Confessions' most digusting song, "That's What It's Made For".

Because, let's remember, consumers rejected his grown and sexy and romantic look on Here I Stand, so clearly he had to go for juvenile, gross, and tawdry here. Except had someone in Ursh's camp reminded him that his most memorable songs -- "Burn", "You Remind Me", "You Make Me Wanna", "Think of You", "Throwback", "U Got It Bad" -- are deeply heartfelt, romantic songs, then we mighta gotten something better here. There is nothing remotely emotional, let alone romantic, on Raymond vs. Raymond, which is a regression, nakedly commercial, and completely soulless.

There is a point in the careers of artists who have longevity where they simply age out of the demographic that the industry targets. Usher has hit that point. The audience that this album is geared toward does not see Usher as the greatest pop star of his generation -- because it's not their generation. They simply relate to him differently than the generation that made him a star at the turn of the century. That is just how it goes. The truth is, Usher will never equal the commercial breakthrough of Confessions. And that's okay. Someone should tell him that that's okay. Albums like that are the result of a perfect storm of elements that are hard to recreate. It doesn't mean he can't make a better album -- Here I Stand was, in many ways, a superior album to Confessions -- even if it doesn't sell quite as much. Usher should know that.

But the problem is, he's a pop star, and the industry -- despite all evidence to the contrary with nearly ever artist in history -- thinks it can get another diamond-certified album out of Usher. So they convinced him to make a pale imitation of Confessions, sell it as if it was exactly like Confessions, and hope no one notices that it's not Confessions.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.