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The Verdict on Raymond v. Raymond? Mediocre, at Best

  • Christa Banister Contributing Writer
  • 2010 7 Apr
The Verdict on <i>Raymond v. Raymond</i>?  Mediocre, at Best

Artist:  Usher
Title:  Raymond v. Raymond
Label:  La Face

For such a confessional title, Usher's latest work doesn't really offer much introspection—or signs of maturity.

After recording 2008's Here I Stand, the project longtime fans and several critics nicknamed his "happy album" because of his unabashed praise for marriage and fatherhood, Usher is back with a decidedly less sunny perspective on relationships on Raymond v. Raymond.

The title, of course, is a nod to the Oscar-winning, Dustin Hoffman/Meryl Streep drama Kramer vs. Kramer, a bitter tale of divorce that Usher definitely related to, given the very public, very nasty split from his now ex-wife, Tameka Foster.

And just in case you didn't make that connection, Usher underscores the project's thesis by saying, "There's three sides to every story. There's one side, there's the other, and then there's the truth."

Since Usher just happens to be one of the Raymond's involved in the dispute, however, I'm not sure if the album is functioning as "one side" or "the truth," but either way, he doesn't really shed much light on what he's learned from the situation in Raymond v. Raymond.

Sure, he devotes plenty of discussion to women, (mostly hooking up with them in clubs or desperately wanting to meet someone new and hot), but surprisingly, there's only one track that actually fits with the album's title.

With the silky, soulful vocals that have endeared him to fans and earned him plenty of professional accolades, Usher laments the end of his marriage in the melancholy ballad "Papers": "I'm ready to sign them papers, papers, papers/I done took all I can take, but you leave me no options girl/I can't deny how much I love you/I done gave up everything I had to."

While there's no doubt that the breakup has left him with some degree of heartbreak, the easy-breezy nature of the project's remaining tracks feels particularly hollow. Although he's 31 years old, recently divorced and the father of two young sons, partying (see "Foolin' Around," "Guilty" and "So Many Girls") and being a player are still clearly his first priority, which doesn't exactly lend much credibility to the battle he's supposed to be addressing in the first place.

But if you're looking at the project through purely musical eyes, well, Usher proves he's got a few good grooves left in his repertoire—even if that's still not as good as his best work, Confessions.

**This review first published on April 7, 2010.