How Usher Finally Found Himself On His New Album, 'Looking 4 Myself'

Oh hey readers! I'm Sam Lansky, and this is "Pop Think," where I spend a lot of time on a quest for self-actualization through pop music -- I might even be inclined to say that I'm Looking 4 Myself. (Sorry to get so profound, but that's how we roll here at Buzzworthy.) See, Looking 4 Myself is the title of the new Usher album, and it's a superb new entry in the singer's three decades (!) of making some of the most creative baby-making music in the game, fused with a confessional spirit that sets him apart from his R&B contemporaries.

And on Looking 4 Myself, Usher is on an identity quest of sorts, traversing the lands of giddy-up dance-pop, grimy R&B downtempos and even some ultrafresh New Wave -- which sees him at his most diverse and inventive yet. Everybody scream: We're headed for a major pop climax.

Usher sounds like he's coming of age on his seventh album in three decades.

"How can someone hurt you, but still make you feel so good?" asks Usher on "Lessons For The Lover," a slow-burning Rico Love-produced jam on his latest LP, Looking 4 Myself. This sentiment could almost serve as the thesis statement not just for the album but for Usher's lyrics over the course of his career: He's always sung about physical pleasure and emotional pain, and at his best, the tension between the two. If this idea is all over the record, it's at its clearest on the debut single, "Climax," an ingenious Diplo-produced fuzzy confection about sex and commitment, and the tenuous relationship between the two. It's loaded with entendre but masterfully controlled, a spectacular anticlimax.

Read more about Usher's coming-of-age album after the jump:

But then, there's nothing new about Usher exploring this recurring theme of the fun not really paying off: Big chunks of his lyrical output, including the Confessions era (one of his many creative peaks), have focused on the consequences of overindulging. On Looking 4 Myself, the two tracks produced by electro-pop superproducers Swedish House Mafia are two sides of that coin: The first, "Numb," is built around an infectious house riff over Usher's layered vocal: "Let's go numb!" The second, "Euphoria," calls out simply, "Here we are, we are, we found euphoria!" Both are big rave-up numbers that'll kill at the club, even as they stand in opposition to each other.

Usher's strength is that the album never sounds confused, even though it's an album about confusion: The title track, "Looking 4 Myself," features vocals and production from Empire Of The Sun's Luke Steele. And while sonically, it's a major departure from the rest of the album, it stays the course in terms of theme: Dissonant, bouncy New Wave gets a little existential as Usher sings, "I'm looking for myself/All my life I'm searching." And on the Motown-referencing "Twisted," produced by The Neptunes with guest vox by Pharrell, Usher howls, "You got it twisted!" -- another take on that theme of confusion on the road to understanding.

But Usher's career has always been about contradictions, confessions, and the coincidence of debauchery and self-awareness -- and what a dangerous emotional cocktail the two can. On Looking 4 Myself, these themes truly come together in a way that's more mature, thoughtful and supremely danceable than he's ever been before. At the age of 33, and now on his seventh studio album, Usher's finally made his coming-of-age record. And it sounds like he's finally found the man he wants to be.

Sam Lansky is a writer and editor from New York City. He goes hard for Swedish pop music, "Real Housewives" GIFs and juice. Follow him on Twitter or Tumblr.

Photo credit: Francesco Carrozzini