Because he's still only 25, it's easy to forget that Usher has been a top-selling recording artist since 1994. In an industry that doesn't necessarily foster longevity, Usher has carved out a durable career as a lover-man crooner of smooth, if not especially challenging, hip-hop-tinged R&B. Of course, it certainly hasn't hurt that the singer has also maintained an image just naughty enough to make the girls scream, yet so sweet and polite he can make their mamas swoon, too.
Still, beneath the adorable surface, there's never seemed to be much there artistically. In his lyrics, Usher has tended toward bland pronouncements about love won or lost, mostly in indistinguishable ballads. So his public contention that his latest album, "Confessions," in stores today, would be his most personal, offered hope of deeper introspection. Are there insights about his break-up with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas from TLC? Well, fans can draw their own conclusions about the mid-tempo soul of "Throwback," in which Usher sings, "You never miss a good thing till it leaves you," and "Burn," in which he states, "Tell me why I should stay in this relationship when I'm hurting, baby."
Certainly, the subtext here is that Usher is sharing juicy morsels about the demise of his relationship with Chilli, but such interpretations may give these songs more credit than they deserve. There's no creative stretch from what Usher has been doing for the past decade. It's all pleasant enough, but then that's the most that can be said of any Usher album -- always pleasant, rarely memorable. Even the album's most melodramatic track, "Confessions, Part II," about a man who has to tell his girlfriend that another woman is pregnant with his child, never seems more than the stuff of a daytime soap plot. (For the record, Usher has made it clear that the situation is fictional, dousing any chance for gossip or speculation.)
The only true standout track is the crunk-happy "Yeah!," a delectable slice of party funk, greatly aided by a rap from Ludacris and lots of yelp and yell from Lil Jon, who has started to sound like he's imitating comedian Dave Chappelle doing his hilarious imitation of Lil Jon.