By Diana Powers, Contributor
Key Tracks: “Need U,” “No Limit,” “Bump”
Usher was once the king of R&B, embodying late 90’s/early 2000’s R&B with his buttery smooth voice. His classic hits such as “My Boo” and “U Got It Bad” have even come to define a whole time period of popular music. However, Usher’s career and music quality have declined in recent years. 2012’s Looking For Myself tried to pull off a blend of electronic and semi-R&B that made for a mess of an album. Hard II Love goes back to Usher’s original R&B sound, making for a much more enjoyable listening experience. Electronic music does not and will never suit Usher’s talents, making Hard II Love a welcome return to Usher’s R&B roots.
The opening track “Need U” is immediately reminiscent of Usher’s early career. The dreamy, sparkling instrumental is a perfect backdrop for Usher’s velvety voice, making “Need U” a surprising and impressively strong start to the album. “No Limit,” Hard II Love’s most “radio-friendly” track, is the album’s most energetic moment. Featuring a verse from the always-entertaining Young Thug, “No Limit” adds some fun to a mostly moody album.
Even though Usher’s overall sound has improved tremendously on Hard II Love, the album as a whole is strangely subtle. Towards the middle of the tracklist, the album sound gets repetitive and even boring. Track such as “FWM” and “Rivals” do not particularly stand out and drags the rest of the album down.
“Champions,” the closer track, sounds very out of place and awkward in the full context of the album. The Latin influence of ”Champions” does not mesh with the broody R&B present throughout Hard II Love, making for a strange and confusing end. It honestly should have been out of the track listing as it does not blend with the rest of the album whatsoever.
Overall, Hard II Love is a refreshing return to Usher’s original sound after an unsuccessful attempt at electronic music. Usher’s voice was seemingly made for R&B and sounds a lot more natural and at home on Hard II Love opposed to his last few albums. Although it definitely has its faults, Hard II Love is a step in the right direction for Usher’s career.