Deep Album Cuts Vol. 28: Usher

As he tours around the country and releases single after single, Usher's 8th studio album UR remains missing in action with no release date in sight. But I've actually enjoyed a good amount of that recent music (well, except for "She Wants To Give It To You") and think this could be a really good record. The only thing really pulling him down, or keeping that album off the shelves, is the fact that he set an incredibly high standard for success earlier in his career. And he hasn't found a way to defy the declining commercial profile of R&B or rally fans and critics around his new music as well as one of his few true peers, Beyonce. And I'm glad to at least see him still at it and trying, not yet ready to just hand it all off to Chris Brown or Trey Songz.

Usher just generally occupies an odd cultural space these days. The world lost its mind to "Yeah!" and "Climax" earned him some new respect from some corners. But he's kind of caught between the Michael Jackson era of superstardom and a younger generation, and there's obviously gonna be some awkward transition periods. But the guy has hits for days, and I think his biggest albums hold up pretty damn well. He's not a self-sufficient auteur, but he has a great sense of his voice and a strong rapport with some great producers and songwriters.

Usher Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist): 

1. Seduction
2. Show Me
3. I Don't Know f/ P. Diddy
4. That's What It's Made For
5. Slow Jam f/ Monica
6. Bad Girl
7. Twork It Out
8. Lingerie
9. Simple Things
10. Bedtime
11. U R The One
12. Throwback (Remix) f/ Jadakiss
13. You Took My Heart
14. Mars. vs. Venus
15. Hottest Thing
16. Red Light
17. One Day You'll Be Mine
18. Something Special

Track 13 from Usher (1994)
Tracks 5, 10 and 17 from My Way (1997)
Tracks 3, 7, 11 and 15 from 8701 (2001)
Tracks 4, 6, and 9 from Confessions (2004)
Tracks 1, 12 and 16 from Confessions (Special Edition) (2004)
Track 18 from Here I Stand (2008)
Track 14 from Raymond v. Raymond (2010)
Track 8 from Versus EP (2010)
Track 2 from Looking 4 Myself (2012)

I've long championed 8701 (the only one of his albums on my top 100 of 2000-2009 list) as my favorite Usher album, and "U Don't Have To Call" and "U Got It Bad" being my favorite Usher singles was certainly no small part of that. But when you strip away the singles, I start to learn towards Confessions. Even though it ran the charts for a straight year with 5 singles, the album is so jam-packed with great songs, many of which got airplay even without a single release (I still hear "Seduction" on the radio now and again, "That's What It's Made For" charted at the time, and "Throwback" and "Bad Girl" are pretty huge for being technically deep cuts). And "Simple Things" is a deep deep cut that is, to me, maybe the best thing he ever did.

The fun thing about a mix like this is hearing what songs just kind of happened on the way to huge chart-topping hits. "I Don't Know" is a dope Neptunes collaboration from the same sessions that yielded "U Don't Have To Call." "Red Light" is an interesting low key Lil Jon flipside to "Yeah!" and Usher has a whole bunch of great Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis collaborations that never blew up like "U Remind Me." Somehow Usher and Babyface made several dope songs together without any of them ever being a hit.

The albums since Confessions have been pretty spotty, and Here I Stand remains one of the biggest fall-offs in pop history (I was actually maybe too kind to it in my review at the time). But they all have their share of dope songs -- as frustrating as most of Looking 4 Myself was, "Show Me" is one of my all-time favorite songs of his. Even the EP of Raymond v. Raymond outtakes had some jams.

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
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