Rolling Stone - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[A]dventurousness defines HARD II LOVE, which manages to stretch the boundaries of R&B while winding toward the brooding atmospherics that have enveloped much of pop over the past 12 months."
Pitchfork (Website) - "[T]here's plenty to like, starting with his voice, which sounds better than ever....It's sleek and modern, and it snaps right into the current R&B landscape."
Photographer: James Law.
Looking 4 Myself became the fourth consecutive Usher album to top the Billboard 200 chart. Its follow-up, Hard II Love, arrived four years later -- by a matter of weeks, the singer's longest between-albums period to that point. The space was filled with several non-album singles, including the ribald Pop & Oak collaboration "Good Kisser" and meet-ups with Nicki Minaj and Juicy J, the latter of which, "I Don't Mind," went multi-platinum. There was a lot of activity outside the vocal booth: a coaching stint on The Voice, the UR Experience Tour, and the filming of the Roberto Durán biopic Hands of Stone, in which Usher portrayed Sugar Ray Leonard. "Champions," Usher and Rubén Blades' contribution to that movie's soundtrack, concludes Hard II Love and predictably sounds like a stray bonus cut. Any of those 2014-2015 singles would be more suited here. While there are instances in which Usher pushes himself vocally -- most so on the slightly church-ified arena pop belter "Stronger" and falsetto pleader "Tell Me" -- he proceeds with his tried-and-true formula, switching between street cuts, slow jams, and relatively pop-flavored material. He still wants to be called a mack, confides he's "still stuck in his ways," and demands, as usual, forgiveness for transgressions. Almost every track has a distinct set of producers and co-writers, and not one of them factored in the previous album. Usher reunites with the imaginative as ever Pop & Oak for "Missin U," a winding and alluring track full of switch-ups that involves a brilliantly placed usage of Steely Dan's "Third World Man." The aching/boasting "Bump," made with Tricky Stewart and the-Dream, would be another airwaves standout with shades of the Art of Noise's "Moments in Love" and the animated voices of Luke and Lil Jon in the background. For most of the selections, Usher connects with a lot of relative newcomers who either started or broke through after 2012. "Make U a Believer," produced by Metro Boomin, is surprisingly uneventful, while the Ready for the World-sampling PartyNextDoor production "Let Me" is a slinking highlight. Nothing here is destined for pop ubiquity, and nothing dazzles quite as much as past hits like "Climax," but this is the most pleasing Usher album in over a decade. In terms of ability, agility, and creativity, Usher's vocals still crush the commercial competition. ~ Andy Kellman
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