After sweeping nearly every pop music award going for his record-breaking 2004 album Confessions, Usher is back, but it's not exactly business as usual for the former teen idol. Here I Stand is Usher's first album since he became a husband and a father in 2007, and brings with it the question of how he can reconcile his raunchy persona of previous years with his new status as a family man.
The album leans heavily on ballads and slow jams, many of which make much of his new life. At times, Here I Stand sounds like Usher's attempt at selling the advantages of life with a wife and kid to his male fans. It's a big leap from his previous albums. Where Confessions was beat-heavy, Here I Stand is far more lyrical, with themes ranging from proclamations of sexual prowess in Trading Places, to discussions of lost love in Best Thing. Unfortunately, the middle section of the 18-track album drags a little, weighed down with too many songs about how much his life has changed. It's likely to be a little boring for the average listener who just wants to get their groove on.
Perhaps with this in mind, he still makes sure to throw in a dance track or two for good measure. An Usher album without a club track would be incomplete, especially given his immense dance talents. On Here I Stand, it first appears in the shape of Love in this Club. It was the first single released from the album and will probably be the only successful one, but despite Young Jeezy adding his two cents, the track is tepid at its best moments.
Unlike many R&B albums this year, neither Timbaland nor T-Pain has a hand in Here I Stand. Despite recording songs with them initially, Usher chose to drop their tracks from the final record. Perhaps if they had been left in, the album wouldn't sound as vapid as it does. Instead, he opted for myriad other producers like Polow Da Don, Danja, Ne-Yo and Jazzy Pha, who bring their own influences to each track. The Ne-Yo co-produced and co-written His Mistakes is an impressive soul ballad in which Usher tells his girl he's not paying for her ex's indiscretions. What's Your Name, produced by Will.i.am, provides listeners with another club track, albeit an average one.
Rounding off the trio of club songs on the album, the Danja-produced track Appetite features the singer discussing life on the road and the temptation of straying from his marriage. As well as the signature "Usher Usher" whispered in the intro, veteran fans will recognise a sample from Nice and Slow from the singer's 1997 second album My Way, and appreciate his foray into Twista-style rapping in the bridge. The following song, What's a Man To Do, is a fresh Spanish guitar propelled track produced by Stargate. It's one of the few tracks on the album to give Usher a platform to display his famous falsetto.
If Usher's objective here was to present a more mature image, Here I Stand is a qualified success. You get the impression that he tried to make a clean break for a new style, but decided to throw in some old style tracks to keep his fan base happy. It remains to be seen whether his next album will see him continue to try for a new direction or find him back in the club, in his comfort zone.