(Released September 16th, 2016)
After a six-year hiatus, three name changes and two years worth of multiple false starts, Mr. Nice & Slow finally returns with his eighth studio album Hard II Love. It’s clear that Usher is an undeniable superstar but these days the singers star is fading and that talent is becoming more and more deniable with every album new album. Hard II Love is no different.
If you based your overall idea of what this project would sound like off of the “first” single No Limit you probably had little to no hope for how it would turn out, or you have no idea that Usher even released a new album. Either way, you’re not alone especially judging by the fact it sold less than 25k its first week, including streams. But nowadays can you really judge an artists work by how well it sold? Yes. Should you? No. But that’s a different topic for another day.
While Hard II Love isn’t exactly terrible, it fails to compare to the albums that came before. Even Looking For Myself stands out more, arguably. But there are some great moments on here that deserve a listen.
Like the opening track for instance. Need U is Usher being well…Usher and with no attempt at fitting in with the newer generation. Everything from the vocals to the songs production is on point, so much so that you’re left anticipating what’s next and that anticipation leads to Missin U. At first I couldn’t care less for this song, after a bunch of listens I came to the conclusion that it’s a pretty solid track that tries to bridge the gap between the “trap&b” style and the R&B we all know and love; for the most part it’s well done. Next up is the Thugger assisted No Limit, you’ve heard the song, I’ve unwillingly heard it and there’s not much to explain. Usher delivers the ever so popular talk-singing while boasting about “ghetto d” and knocking it out like Sugar Ray and Thug “rapping” about who knows what. I couldn’t help but assume this was written by Chris Brown at first and that unfortunately isn’t because his pen game is so amazing.
It’s easy to lose interest after the first three songs but Bump offers a surprisingly semi enjoyable shift. Written and produced by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart the repetitiveness of Usher singing about wanting to bump bump bump, no B2K, has a beat that makes it easy on the ears instead of unbearable, Ush’s airy tone also helps to add a little texture to it.
After this there is pretty much a consistent up and down as each song goes by, the downs being more prevalent than the ups. With Bump being the fourth track on this album out of the eleven songs that follow it, there are maybe four that are worth listening to, give or take a couple, and they are Downtime, Make U A Believer, Tell Me and Rivals; I would add Mind of a Man but it serves as more of a mere snippet timing out before hitting the one minute mark. The positives pretty much end there and so does my interest for this album.
Overall, Hard II Love is exactly what I expected and hoped that it wouldn’t be. Even though it’s evident that Usher scaled back with his previous attempts at producing a mainstream pop hit by only having one song that caters to that specific audience (Crash), the type of R&B he chose to focus on makes it hard to believe that many of us considers him the male Beyoncé. Over the years we’ve watched Usher go from hit album after hit album, to hit single after hit single, now we’re witnessing a stagnant artist who is struggling to remain relevant while also still trying to find his sound. It’s quite a sight to see as time continues to pass by. But, all hope isn’t lost for Ush; his voice is still intact and there are plenty of producers and writers out there that are capable of helping him find who he truly is and wants to be musically. He still has many albums left in him, depending on if the inspiration is there, and that could either make for comeback music or a retirement soundtrack. It’s his call at this point. I wouldn’t count him out just yet but Hard II Love has probably already been forgotten so all I can do is hope for the best next time around.