[RCA; 2012]

Ever since “Climax” dropped earlier this year, anticipation for Usher’s Looking 4 Myself has been growing immensely, with fans expecting a return to form from the R&B artist. Well let me alleviate any doubts and say that this is easily Usher’s best work since 2004’s diamond-certified hit Confessions, but by no means is it a perfect album. Whereas for the most part, Confessions had a cohesive emotional theme, Looking 4 Myself feels like Usher picking and choosing from different genres and themes for each song, with varying levels of success.

The album kicks off with “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” and single “Scream,” both tracks clear club-bangers that, instead of feeling like the “revolutionary pop” that the artist has been talking about for the past few months, are far too reminiscent of the Usher that fell victim to the will.i.am’s and David Guetta’s of the music world on his past albums. Though they start the album off with some energetic fun, the tracks are easily forgettable and don’t reflect the sum of the genius held within Looking 4 Myself.

“Climax” is placed as the third track, and thankfully reminds you why you bought the album in the first place. Though not new by any means, “Climax” still sounds as fresh and innovative as it did months ago: Usher displays unrivaled control of his falsetto and Diplo’s production is restrained and intelligent, allowing the song to build and grow without overtaking the artist with bass and effects. Other tracks on the album display the same level of ingenuity, such as the Pharell feature “Twisted,” which carries a beat reminiscent of a James Brown song, and has Usher’s swagger and vocal talent on full effect. Noah “40” Shebib even drops by to give us “What Happened To U,” an example of what an Usher version of a Drake song would sound like, “unhappiness with his fame” and all. It sounds good though, and “40” gives us another beautifully spacey beat, just as expected.The best parts of the album have Usher doing what he does best: singing about love, heartbreak, sex, and success — sometimes all within the same song. Tracks like “I Care For U,” and “Lemme See” follow this formula, and they pull it off fantastically. “Sins Of My Father” has Usher showing more bite in his voice than I’ve heard before, and it helps to make a song that is both fun and slightly sinister. But it is highpoints like these that make when the album falters that much more evident.

Throughout Looking 4 Myself there are moments that are so incredibly frustrating that it makes you wonder who let Usher think they were good choices. “Dive” is perhaps on of the best musically sounding songs on the album, with one of the best melodies I’ve heard in an Usher song, period. His vocals are in the forefront of the song, as he changes from lower registers to his strong falsetto on the fly with the skill of seasoned artist. But once you pay a closer listen to the lyrics, whatever merit this song held is diminished. It’s clear that he was going for the “sweet but sexy” tone, but with lyrics like “It’s raining inside your bed, no parts are dry/ Lovin’ makes you so wet, your legs, your thighs,” the song instead makes you feel more like you just want to take a shower. “Shedding all your innocence,” he sings, “I see the walls are looking like they might precipitate/ Until I’m in so deep, it’s up to my waist/ But I promise girl I ain’t afraid.” Well, he may not be, but I’m definitely frightened of what is going on in this bedroom. Also, the title track featuring Luke Steele (of Empire of the Sun fame) may look like a hit on paper, in actuality it sounds more like a retooled cover of Empire of the Sun’s own “Walking on a Dream,” albeit with better vocals and different lyrics, yet less cohesive. It’s a disjointed and imperfect track that is presented as the thematic crux of the album, but ultimately falls flat.

Looking 4 Myself is only 14 tracks long, but I can’t help but feel that it still feels bloated. If some of the fat had been trimmed, and the forgettable songs been taken out, then Usher would have had a masterpiece of an album. But as it is, fans must settle for an Usher album that is good, but not great. But even with its faults, Looking 4 Myself has proven that Usher is still relevant and capable of doing a lot more than releasing hits to be played in dance clubs and on pop radio. Perhaps it isn’t the album fans were entirely hoping for, especially after the potential “Climax” held, but Looking 4 Myself does enough things right that it is worthy of a listen from any music fan, and an essential for R&B fans. Make no mistake though, Usher’s masterpiece was released in 2004; hopefully he can capitalize on and develop everything done right on Looking 4 Myself, and release a follow up that can truly match or exceed Confessions.

Fingers crossed.