Confessions, by Usher (Expanded Version)
By the early 2000’s, Usher had been an important figure in R&B for several years since his debut in the 1990’s, and while he was never one of my own favorite artists, he certainly had a smooth R&B sound that I appreciated and still to this day enjoy from time to time. While I heard plenty of his songs on the radio, amazingly enough I never bought any of his singles or albums and so it was when I was invited to rank down his most successful album, I was quite enthusiastic to listen to his most successful era, one where he had numerous #1 hits as well as only slightly less successful hits, including with an extended version that included late-era singles that managed to prolong Usher’s chart dominance long past its original period. In going into a project like this, therefore, I already know that I am going to like the hit singles. But is the project good overall? Let’s see.
The album begins with a short intro track which shows off some smooth vocal effects and sets up the album’s confessional theme. “Yeah” (featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon) follows, a massive smash about finding love in the club. “Throwback” (featuring Jadakiss) is a song about wishing to be back with one’s baby, which also happens to be a throwback R&B track. “Confessions” is a smooth song in its instrumentation but its lyrics are rather wrenching in their sincerity about Usher’s shady cheating, admitting all of his lies. This is immediately followed by a part two of the song, because the first part wasn’t complete, now that he’s dealing with a baby with his side chick and concerns about her faithfulness to him. “Burn” looks at the smoldering ruins of a broken relationship and was another massive hit. “Caught Up” is an excellent song about being infatuated with someone unexpectedly. An interlude precedes “Superstar” and then the song itself praises the singer’s #1, who is not, let us remember, his only one. “Truth Hurts” continues with the album’s confessional self-abnegation. “Simple Things” shows an appreciation of love and quality time apart from spending money. “Bad Girl” expresses Usher’s taste in bad girls in the club and perhaps other places. “That’s What It’s Made For” is about a partner’s insatiable appetite for love. “Can U Handle It” is a slow jam that focuses on loving and honest communication. “Do It To Me” focuses on the intimate lovemaking that follows intimate conversation. “Take Your Hand” then turns to wondering where it is that a partner wants to go with the singer. “Follow Me” calls upon a loved one to follow him. “My Boo” (with Alicia Keys) calls to a memory of the singer’s first love. “Red Light” has an ominous beat and hints at Usher’s fondness for ladies of the night and one night stands. “Seduction” talks about how Usher is being seduced by someone who is not his significant other despite the risk or because of it. The album then ends with a remix to part two of Confessions as a rap posse cut with Shyne (from prison), Twista, Kanye West, and Jermaine Dupri, which is more of an aggressive tone than the rest of the album.
Although admittedly this album is a bit long for my tastes, it certainly lives up to its premise and was a vital album in R&B that bridged the R&B of the 90’s with the crunk sound that was dominating in 2004. By and large, the album demonstrates that the confessions of Usher are largely sexual in nature, and of the kind that reflect badly on Usher’s morality but better on Usher’s honesty. The singer, who was struggling through a scandalous time in his career, turned the need to be honest into a cathartic effort to reflect upon love and lust as he understood and experienced, struggling to be honorable in his dealings with other people but all too easy prey for seduction. His call to enjoy the simple things like spending time with a loved one is undercut by the fact that his lifestyle is fueled by popular success, giving him the money to have girls on the side and be able to pay child support for kids with women he hardly knows. Still, one gets the feeling after listening to this album that one knows what Usher is about. This is nothing particularly deep or praiseworthy, but it does appear to be sincere at least.