Retrospective Review: Usher, Confessions


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Ten years later, Confessions stands tall as a modern R&B classic 

Usher • Confessions • LaFace • US Release Date: March 22, 2004

As hard as it is to believe, it has been a decade since R&B artist Usher released his ‘ace in the hole’, Confessions.  Back in 2004, there was no bigger album than Confessions, which went on to sell ten million copies, earning diamond certification from the RIAA.  Diamond albums certainly don’t grow on trees, and Confessions was one special album by all means.  Not only was Confessions special with its immense commercial success and multiple number one singles, but it can also be considered to be both a modern R&B classic and arguably a modern classic regardless of genre.  Consistent from start to finish, whether it’s the original release or the rereleased ‘Special Edition’, Confessions is a musical gem.

Intro” foreshadows the theme of the album, obviously Usher’s ‘confessions’ in regards to various romance issues.  While the 0:46 cut could be wrote off in regards to its ultimate importance to the effort, it does set the tone if nothing more.  “Yeah!” is the attention-getter, serving as the set’s club joint.  “Yeah!” bangs hard ten years later, even with crunk falling by the wayside. “Peace up, A-Town down!” was easily one of the signature lines of 2004 with “Yeah!” ultimately sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks.  Before ‘swag’ came to be associated with Justin Bieber, Usher certainly epitomized it: “Yeah, shorty got down low said, come and get me / yeah, I got so caught up, I forgot she told me / yeah, her and my girl, they used to be the best of homies / yeah, next thing I knew she was all up on me screamin’…” Throw in Lil Jon’s exuberant shouts and Ludacris’s nastiness (“If you hold the head steady, I’mma milk the cow…I won’t stop till I get ‘em in their birthday suit…”), and “Yeah!” showcases ultra beast mode.

Throwback” appeared on the original Confessions without the assist of Jadakiss, who joined the remixed version on the special edition.  Regardless of the version, “Throwback” smartly uses a soulful sample as inspiration for its “throwback” nature in addition to the real meaning of “throwback” contextually within this standout.  Usher says it best on the first verse: “You never miss a good thing ‘til it leaves ya / finally I realized that I need ya back / I want ya back…” Usher’s love loss is the listener’s gain, sigh.

After ‘throwing back’, Usher dives into both his confessions – “Confessions” and former number one hit “Confessions, Pt. II”.  On the original release, “Confessions” was merely an interlude, but was expanded into a full-fledged, enjoyable track on the special edition.  The confessional lines ring true on the memorable refrain: “Everything that I’ve been doing is all bad / I got a chick on the side with a crib and a ride / I been telling you so many lies / ain’t none good it’s all bad…” The drama only gets deeper on the even more electrifying “Part II”: “Now this gon’ be the hardest thing I think I ever had to do  / Got me talkin’ to myself askin’ how I’m gon’ tell you / ‘bout that chick on part 1 I told y’all I was creepin’ with, creepin’ with / said she’s 3 months pregnant and she’s keepin’ it…” Ten years later, “ Confessions, Pt. II” is a type of contemporary R&B song many still wish had hung around in present times.  The rhythmic approach to the vocals, the songwriting, and exceptional production work make the song valedictory.

Burn” is another superb contemporary R&B smash, still sounding incredibly fresh and meaningful.  Usher delivers the Grammy-winning ballad with supreme sincerity, capped off by “ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh,” representing the singer’s own ‘burning’.  A favorite lyrical moment arrives via verse two: “You’ve been gone for too long / it’s been fifty-eleven days, um-teen hours / I’mma be burnin’ till you return…” On “Caught Up”, Usher speaks of the misconceptions of the “hit it and quit” method without repercussions: “My mama told me / be careful who you do cause karma comes back around / same old song / but I was so sure / that it wouldn’t happen to me, cause I know how to put it down / but I was so wrong…” Ultimately, the listener comes to find out that this girl, well, she’s got ‘Ursher’ “twisted” and “losing control.”  Usher simply can’t hook up with this one and forget about it.  Even so, Usher’s pain once more is the audience’s gain, and they (we) benefit big time.

On “Superstar” (also preceded by its own interlude), Usher unselfishly switches roles.  Rather than focus on his own superstardom – which was established prior to Confessions – Usher makes his “number one” the superstar.  Usher proclaims “I’ll be your groupie baby / cuz you are my superstar / I’m your number one fan, give me your autograph / sign it right here on my heart…” The results are both consistent and excellent, with “Superstar” easily fitting into the top tier of Confessions.  Nine tracks into Confessions, a verdict of high praise is almost imminent, given the quality of the front half of the LP.

It could be argued that the span of songs following “Superstar” up until “My Boo” (Special Edition), are a shade less enthralling.  While this group of songs isn’t the juggernauts of the front half, on any other album, they possibly might be standouts on their own.  What that says is that Confessions is ‘deep’ from top to bottom with no misses.  “Truth Hurts”, for example, features chill, easygoing vocals from Usher and delivers another well written, memorable song.  Sure, “Truth Hurts” isn’t quite as compelling as “Burn”, but it also isn’t deserving of skipping by any means.  Similarly, “Simple Things” is simply beautiful and soulful, with the electric piano truly throwing given this cut that vintage, soul cue.  Throw in the backing vocals, and “Simple Things” proves you can’t ‘simply’ write off non-singles and less heralded cuts from a five-star album.

Bad Girl” wasn’t released as a single, but a portion was featured on the “My Boo” music video.  Confessions had more than a successful run with its singles, so there was no need to release “Bad Girl”, BUT honestly, it would’ve made yet another electrifying hit potentially.  It’s another clubby cut, but without the same edginess of “Yeah!” Still, swag is written all over this cut, only confirmed by Usher’s slick upper register and falsetto.  Usher doesn’t slow down on follow-up “That’s What It’s Made For”, which seems like a natural segue in the narrative sensually.  Usher is incredibly sexed-up here, though he has manners you might say: “Figured I’d hit it and quit it just one night / got so good to me doubled back twice…” (Verse one) only later stating “Game rules, no cap no cut / but even Superman couldn’t turn your love down, I / slipped up, slipped in / hey man what the hell you doin’?” (Verse two).  Bad girl or bad boy – “that is the question!”

Both “Can U Handle It” and “Do It To Me” continues to find Usher igniting the bedroom, though Usher keeps it much classier than many of today’s male R&B artists.  Sure, its obvious Usher is talking about sex, but he keeps its ‘sensual’ as opposed to overtly ‘sexual’.  After slower tempi, “Take Your Hand”, a very underrated hip-hop soul-grooving joint, speeds the tempo up, brilliantly closing the standard edition.  “Take Your Hand” doesn’t supplant the best, but it definitely supplements them.

The special edition of Confessions rocks four additional tracks, with all four ending up consistent for the most part.  “My Boo” featuring Alicia Keys is the gem of the group, residing with the top tier of the effort.  Back in 2004, “My Boo” was the ultimate superstar duet between two stars at the very top of their games.  In fact, Confessions and arguably Keys’ best album The Diary of Alicia Keys would face off in the album of the year category at the Grammys.  The song itself, was well produced, well written, and had a remarkable authenticity and vocal chemistry.  The remainder of bonus tracks didn’t stand a chance against this juggernaut.  Even so, “Red Light” was sound, sensually driven club cut, while “Seduction” served the perfect purpose for making love into the night.  The least notable is a remix of “Confessions, Pt. II”, featuring Shyne, Twista, and a breakout rapper by the name of Kanye West.

Usher-20130917-48Overall, Confessions stands as one of R&B and music’s modern masterpieces; its tremendous legacy continues to live on a decade after its original release.  As of late, R&B has cooled off considerably, with few marquee albums to show for it – no disrespect.  With identity issues sometimes plaguing the genre, Confessions serves as an album chocked to the brim with confidence, personality, and the upmost quality.  More R&B artists, maybe even Usher him self, should reexamine this exceptional, modern classic for inspiration.  Confessions represents and artist and genre at their most brilliant.

Favorites:

“Yeah!”; “Throwback”; “Confessions, Pt. II”; “Burn”; “Caught Up”; “Superstar”; “My Boo”

Verdict: ★★★★★

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