You can't judge a book by its cover.
The same rule applies to CDs.
The cover of Usher's long-in-gestation Raymond V Raymond features the R&B singer, standing serious and symbolically split.
It's an image that conjures all kinds of interesting ideas I wanted to see the singer explore. How interesting, I thought, it would be to hear him address the idea of being both a father and the current king of get-your-clothes-off soul, of being both a community-minded champion for education and equality and a professional party starter. What an interesting record, I thought.
Too bad content didn't meet with conjecture.
Instead, Usher offers a by-the-numbers album that follows his pattern of slow jam seductions and up-tempo club hits. There's nothing spectacular, nothing that doesn't seem ordinary and nothing worthy of an artist of his stature.
Usher remains one of R&B's truest talents. He's the rare entertainer blessed with both charisma and exceptional musical skill. He's an artist whom fans can't help but watch and yearn to hear -- most of the time.
But little of that star quality is in evidence here. Instead of making the thoughtful and musically sophisticated record fans expected, he has chosen to randomly select from the generic studio toolbox too many artists have chosen to employ -- an Autotuned vocal here, a jarring rap break there.
It's frustrating, because there are glimpses of the record that should have been.
The confessional Foolin' Around , followed by the single Papers , a scorching musical divorce drama, is a potent one-two punch -- soulful, personal and clearly painful. It's all the things great soul music should be. But those songs come and go too quickly, returning the listener to the regularly scheduled program of dance floor seductions.
The only other time the album takes off is on Guilty , which addresses Usher's personal traumas, his persona and the question of how to bridge both. It is, in a single track, everything I had hoped Raymond V Raymond might be.
Instead, it's a small part of a larger whole, too fleeting a glimpse at what might have been.