ALBUM THROWBACK: USHER | CONFESSIONS (2004)
Music and novels are decidedly different art forms, but they both demonstrate the power of a good story. Topics that strike a chord, characters that you root for. These elements can make us rewind an album or turn the page all the same. This understanding helped shape "Confessions," the fourth album by Usher released on March 23, 2004, via Arista Records. If R&B were a story, lots of characters would be involved. But few would dominate a chapter the way Usher did with his breakthrough LP. Usher was already one of R&B’s biggest stars before Confessions. He had Platinum albums, high-charting singles and big TV performances. But for Usher's team, there was still another level for him to reach. He was a star but not an icon. Famous, but not ubiquitous.
It was three years (and several high-profile label mergers) since the former teen idol’s last album, "8701," but not much changed in Usher’s world. He’s was still flaunting his abs and playing loverboy to all the ladies, crooning atop slick, pulsating beats courtesy of super-producers like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, as well as a host of new collaborators. Usher was in his mid-20s, which is the right age for taking a chance on a one-night stand (the bareback anthem “That’s What It’s Made For”) and getting his “chick on the side” knocked up (“Confessions Part II”). There’s plenty for those who like Sensitive Usher, too: “Truth Hurts” finds Usher suspicious of his girl but then ends with a “surprise” twist while “Superstar” boasts a cute metaphor that’s perhaps a little too obvious (“I’m your number one fan/Give me your autograph/Sign it right here on my heart”). The edgy, guitar-driven “Bad Girl” is one of the only tracks that live up to the album’s strapping lead single “Yeah!” which has elevated the singer to a whole new level of crunk. Another possible contender is “Take Your Hand,” an unmistakably Rich Harrison-helmed track that sounds like a slinkier, stripped-down cousin to Beyoncé‘s “Crazy In Love”—same style, same sample pattern. Still, this time it’s “Is There A Place For Me?” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.
"Confessions" appeared to be the start of a long reign for Usher. But over the years, his star dimmed amid changes to his image and the high standard he set for himself. Usher's marriage to Tameka Foster interfered with his image as a playboy. And though he released good albums and singles, he has never recaptured the magic of "Confessions."
It's unfair to expect Usher to match such a monumental album. But fans' desire for him to do so is a testament to the album's quality and impact. Few R&B albums can match the level of singing and production heard on "Confessions." Even fewer tell a story that compels millions of listeners. And no album since has spawned as many big hits that are unmistakably R&B. These feats have made "Confessions" a landmark—one that casts a shadow across all of Usher's other work but is too big ever to be overlooked.