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“Coming Home”: An empty time capsule to Usher’s beginnings

Usher+released+his+first+independent+album+Coming+Home%2C+on+February+9%2C+only+days+before+preforming+at+the+Super+Bowl+LVIII+halftime+show.
Courtesy of Mega/Gamma Records
Usher released his first independent album “Coming Home,” on February 9, only days before preforming at the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show.

Usher’s last album was released in 2016. In the last eight years, Usher has kept somewhat of a low profile. However, he has come back into the spotlight this year, a year that marks 30 years since his debut album, “Usher,” in 1994. By this point in many other artist’s careers, this is when they start making much darker and riskier moves in their art.

At first glance, it seems that this is Usher’s intent with “Coming Home,” as the first piece the audience interacts with, the cover, already breaks a long-standing Usher tradition in a sharp way. The cover art is a faceless shot of Usher, with only a jeweled cross and Georgia peach facing the camera. All of his other solo albums keep it simple with a glamour shot of his face, so it can only be a conscious decision to put two symbols of his past — his introduction to music via his church’s choir and his upbringing in Atlanta —  to the forefront, under the title of “Coming Home.”

It would be nice if this album delivered on its promises of thoughtful meditation. That’s not the case. The single from the album, “Good Good” featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage, promises an album of Usher’s trademark swagger mixed with nuanced maturity. Yet, the album on the whole doesn’t reach any heights at all. It seems to be barely keeping up with modern R&B.

The only reason this album is three stars instead of two is simply that it is sonically competent and the theme of reflecting on the past ties the songs together. It’s not incredible and, in fact, for an artist on Usher’s level, it is subpar, but never actively terrible.

Usher seems to be incapable of putting out truly bad work. At worst, he is mediocre, and this album is incredibly uninventive. It has some merit because the songs maintain a pulse and are somewhat catchy, but it’s not worth the hour investment it asks for. There is definitely an attempt to present Usher in a mature and healthy light, but it’s all rather flaccid. 

He expresses very little emotion, with no wails of heartbreak or sensual desire. In his older songs, like “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love,” there is laughter in his voice when he is meant to express joy, but no such examples here. The lyrics are vague and noncommittal, and Usher does very little in his performances of each song. There’s no belting or runs or anything to express artistic interest in this project. People generally want to be moved by music, or at least compelled, even if it’s just from insane catchiness, but here is an album that falls just short of being anything to anyone.

The album has a majority of breakup songs. Now, Usher has been in a relationship with his current partner since 2019 and married her this year, so while it could be biographical, that doesn’t seem totally likely. As an audience, it’s better to understand these heartbreak songs through the lens of the relationship between Usher and his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. 

This is all far more interesting in theory, of course, because as stated before, this album doesn’t actually successfully express any strong feelings, only teasing. The lyrics are not very good, and while Usher has never really been known for lyrical songs, the lyrics in “Coming Home” are bland. If we treat Usher as an actor, these songs are not giving him anything to work with to tell the stories. This, in conjunction with production that is five to 10 years behind the times, creates songs that sound like the trimmings of far better R&B albums that came out years ago.

Every complaint described thus far should be understood to apply to most of the tracks, but “Good Good” is a notable exception. It’s an oddly structured song, a three-way conversation singing to an ill-defined ex partner or partners, but it’s somehow able to land the balance and create a song about love after love. Each narrator thanks a former partner for the time they shared and gently apologizes for the end of the relationship but is mostly at ease with the newfound friendship with said ex and seems to be looking to the future already. It’s strange in a pop climate where most breakup songs are desolate, vindictive or stuffed with unresolved longing to have a song about a breakup that’s fairly at peace with what happened and blaming no one. It helps that it has a wonderful hook in the line, “We ain’t good good, but we’re still good” and an earnestly charming chorus. “Coming Home” is approximately 40% duets, with artists like Burna Boy and Jungkook of BTS, but this is the only song out of 20 tracks that puts each collaborator to good use. 

While there are good tracks (“Cold Blooded,” “Stone Kold Freak,” “Bop”), “Coming Home” is an inessential album that adds very little to Usher’s body of work. This is a ridiculously underwhelming comeback for one of the leading male voices in R&B.

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Mila Ventura-Rodriguez, Staff writer
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