Usher has been using his considerable sex appeal to woo fans since he was just a kid _ who can forget his hit, "Can U Get Wit It," in which the 15-year-old warned that he wasn't looking for romance _ "it's only a sexual thing?"
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Ten years later, matters of sex are still foremost on Usher's brain on "Confessions," the follow-up to his triple-platinum CD "8701." Whereas that album, released three years ago, focused more on the search for love and its eventual heartbreak, on "Confessions," Usher delves into lust, temptation and the dirt people do that causes love to go bad.
"If I'm gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all," he croons on the title track _ a mournful song in which he admits to getting his girl on the side pregnant. Raw with emotion, Usher sings the guilt-ridden lyrics so convincingly, and with such passion it almost seems easy to forgive him for his transgressions. On the jaunty "Truth Hurts," though, Usher finds himself on the other side of the equation, nervously questioning whether his lover's been up to no good _ wicked, for sure, but wickedly entertaining.
Then there's the smooth breakup ballad "Burn," on which he tenderly, reluctantly yet firmly bids goodbye to a lover who just wants to hang on. Given all the drama surrounding his recent breakup with TLC's Chilli _ she very publicly accused him of cheating _ it almost seems as if you're listening to a juicy, audio version of the National Enquirer.
But "Confessions" isn't all about love gone wrong. There's plenty of sensual pillow talk expertly designed to get a rise out of both sexes _ depending on your perspective. On "That's What It's Made For," Usher talks about wearing out something that does not come with a manufacturer's warranty, while on "Superstar," he seductively offers to be the groupie for his girl.
He also does his best Prince imitation on "Do It to Me," which borrows so much from "The Beautiful Ones" it should include a sampling credit.
Though plenty of male R&B singers warble on and on about lust, love, passion and infidelity, there are only a select few who do it with any intelligence _ many rely on songs riddled with both musical and lyrical cliches, bereft of any spark.
Usher's "Confessions" is an artistic gem just about all levels, thanks to top-notch material from a variety producers and songwriters including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Jermaine Dupri and even Robin Thicke (Usher is also credited as a songwriter on the majority of the tracks).
At the tender age of 25, Usher has already proven himself to be among music's most popular stars. But with "Confessions," he should also be mentioned as among its artistic elite.
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