When I was first discovering music, I was in middle school and I would go to F.Y.E. each weekend and buy a new CD with the money I had saved up from the week. Now I’ll admit I did not get the best albums, but one of the ones I remember enjoying the most was Usher’s Raymond v. Raymond. Over time, I started to realize how mediocre that record was and while I still love Confessions I have never been crazy about Usher’s material outside of a some great singles here and there.
Simply because of this nostalgia I have for Usher I decided I would give Hard II Love a listen to see if he could recapture what made Confessions so great. After a four year drought between records, I was especially hoping this would be something special. I am happy to say that I was very impressed by what Usher delivered here, and I am happy to say this is easily his best album in over a decade since Confessions.
We start off with “Need U,” a perfect return to a more traditional R&B, with some subtle production and kicks this record off well, reminding you of just how talented Usher truly is. The following track, “Missin U,” definitely picks up the tempo, with some of the most grandiose production on the record. Even with that slightly annoying edited vocal narration that fades in and out of the track.
The lead single, “No Limit,” is undoubtedly fun and definitely something I really hope starts to get further chart success. Usher’s delivery is much more restricted but fits the heavier production well. Also Young Thug continues to grow on me with a verse that did not drag this song down the way I expected it to.
Another highlight here is “Bump” which utilizes some Lil Jon lines to create a great beat and allows Usher to utilize more of his vocal register to show off just how much of a unique talent he is. This talent is especially showcased on the album’s sophomore single “Crash,” a ballad about holding onto your loved one to stay sane. Usher’s falsetto is beautiful and depicts an image of a vulnerable man on the edge perfectly.
Usher’s ambition for this record comes through well on the 8 and a half minute “Tell Me” which serves as this album’s centerpiece. It is a slow ballad, simply about making love, and even with its simplicity it works as a beautiful ode to that special someone in his life. Usher’s passion comes across in his vocals as he strips off any filters or noticeable edits and just bares it all. This is one of the greatest highlights on this record and will undoubtedly be on countless baby-making playlists.
Sadly with all these songs that work so well, there are more than enough bad to mediocre tracks here that I have to talk about. In an attempt to make this album accessible to modern audiences, something Usher has been known to do, many poor decisions were made. For one, the Metro Boomin song “Make U a Believer” which comes across less classy as the songs leading up to it, focusing on Usher trying to convince his lover he is not cheating on her, saying that they just want to step in and take him for themselves.
I had hopes that Future would impress me in the way that Young Thug did and not drag down his song “Rivals.” My hopes were not fulfilled, but not even entirely by Future. Yes, his contributions did not help, seeming more pointless than anything, but some of the lyrics here are just bad. “Your kisses are Duracell they keep me energized” was cringe worthy and the song just never recovered for me.
The album essentially has two endings, the first being “Stronger” which was definitely the intended final song here. The song is a tribute to Usher’s stepson who died in an accident at age 11 in 2012. The passion and good intentions are definitely there, but I feel the writing could have been better at creating some deeper emotions from the listener.
Then we get the song “Champions” which was clearly added on to promote Usher’s movie Hands of Stone which had already lost all hype by the time this album came out. It is a unique track for Usher, being in both English and Spanish, with contributions by Rubén Blades that are not bad. The lyrics are pretty basic, as is the case for most soundtrack singles, and I feel this would have worked much better outside of this record.
While imperfect, seeing Usher make a quality album again was great to me and I am so glad this turned out as well as it did. Usher remains one of the most talented vocalists working in R&B and he deserves the chance to show off his abilities and this record certainly did a lot to do just that.
Best Tracks: Need U, Missin U, No Limit, Bump, Crash, Tell Me
Worst Track: Make U a Believer