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Usher
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Confessions
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Confessions is the biggest-selling compact disc of ought-four thus far. It's been #1 in more countries than you'll ever visit, and has sold more copies than there are humans populating the metropolis you live in. Four million Americans have already bought the record, in the space of two months, and, yes, that's roughly the entire population of Melbourne, my hometown. So, y'know, what are an unfathomable amount of human beings on this planet listening to? Well, there's a real chance they've been lured here by the "worldwide smash hit" "Yeah!," which means they're probably listening to Usher (forever ever now pronounced, courtesy of this cut, "Ursher") singing "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," over and over. It's not like he's pure Bartlett's elsewhere on Confessions, but, perhaps surprisingly, this is a considered, conceived album, whose title is a simple statement of the disc's intent.

Whilst there are other moments that go against such thematic grain — including the musically awful, lyrically repugnant "Bad Girl," which matches rock-radio guitars with unending variations on terms for "female" (babe/lady/girl/broad/dame/chick/etc.) — none are as incongruous as the song that's been used to sell this disc. "Yeah!"'s meaningless exclamations and positive sentiments seem so out of place it feels like a surefire single foisted upon an album that some dude wearing a suit deemed lacking that party-starting number amongst all its dear-diary (or, more so, dear-ex) balladry. "Yeah!" starts proceedings with a yell, but is — and should be — quickly forgotten.

If we're seeking a song representative of the record, it comes with "Truth Hurts." It starts off seeming like it's going to wander through that most-vogue topic for hip-hoppers, female infidelity, only to, halfway through, invert these proffered sentiments, reinventing the song as the accusations of fooling around are turned back on the lyrical protagonist — Usher Raymond, actually — who then makes one of his many confessions (all confessed variations on the same theme) herein: "I been blaming you when I'm the one that's doing wrong/ A guilty conscience is the real reason I wrote this song." For a self-confessed "player," such a sentiment goes against instinct; and, in the myth-making fantasy worlds of hip-hoppers — or pop/R&B facsimiles thereof — admitting such weakness is, usually, a no-no, a sure way to get slandered a "fag" by whoever it is you got beef with at this point in time. In such a world, telling the truth is difficult, and it's hard to imagine this came easy to Usher, the artist using the crutch of making a "soul" album — which we can translate as "a slow-paced record about feelings"— to prop up his wounded pride, and probably, as well, drawing on the Lord, what with the CD credits starting "God is so good and provides the direction in my life!"

Since he's an unimaginably famous human, Usher's personal life is already fodder for the gossip industry worldwide, and with Confessions, he's basically providing fuel for their fires. Aside from a few scattered, misplaced moments where he addresses the obligatory topic of checking-out-girls-in-a-club, for the most part his recent infidelities are the sole subject matter, even infecting musical moments where such sentiments are a little out of place. With its slow-jam Jam & Lewis serve-up of syncopated licks of stroked guitar and florid, fluttering trills of synth flutes, "That's What It's Made For" is basically a bump-and-grind number, with Usher doing a lot of crooning about freaking you, the track's title essentially referring to his, uh, equipment. But listen beneath the moans and groans and Usher isn't just singing some sexed-up valentine to those swooning fan-girls he regularly pseudo-seduces, in apparent pantomime, on stage — he's actually singing about mistakenly impregnating some unknown girl in a drunken haze. Perhaps the cruel will say that the seductiveness of this number will lend it to soundtracking many other accidental conceptions, but the song itself seems symbolic of where Usher is at with this longplayer, every cut herein a potential vehicle for his soul-baring.

The title track of this thematic work is, interestingly, a 76-second "interlude," in which, over solemn piano chords and sweeping strings, Usher receives the phone call that sets him on this topical path. In the interlude's latter moments, Raymond also introduces his tightly-syncopated speak-singing voice — reminiscent of boyish-garage-crossover-hero-cum-sadsack-Sting-collaborating-sellout Craig David — which he uses to succinctly illustrate his predicament. "Confessions" gives way to "Confessions Part II," the two conceived as being representative of his two separate disclosures of his on-the-sly life, the latter's choruses openly offering: "Just when I thought I said all I could say/ My chick-on-the-side said she got one on the way." Musically, the song dangles dabs of treated guitar, and throws occasional flourishes of piano, but for the most part it's built on shuffling, syncopated drum programming. Whilst its lyrical content could be considered red and raw, Confessions is a very synthetic-sounding record, an opulent monument erected from un-ironic synthesizer sounds. Sometimes, this tone can be taken to accidentally-artistic extremes, like on the completely twee "Do It to Me," where the staccato stabs of piano-preset and washes of faux strings are so ersatz they seem almost alien, such sounds matching an Usher vocal straddling the heights of his falsetto, the few moments of punched-in atonal blocks of "bass-drum" synth sound sounding like they've been excavated from some early arcade-game machine.

For most of the time, though, the music here tries to be as unobtrusive as possible, its plasticky tone and carefully shined finish constructed to contrast with the earnest soulfulness of Usher's singing. And it's in his words that the album finds the substance that it does have.


by Anthony Carew




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