“Climax” by Usher (2012)

Post-Confessions, Usher has spent a ton of time jumping onto any trend that will have him, and his recorded output has suffered as a result. Actually, let me walk that back. Post-Confessions, Usher released Here I Stand, a really solid album that didn’t set the world on fire the way Confessions did. Then Justin (White Usher) Timberlake lapped him commercially. THAT was when the trend-jumping (EDM experiments, Pitbull guest appearances) got egregious. Not a great look when you’ve only got one definitively great album. “Climax” briefly gave me hope that Usher hadn’t totally thrown his artistic output into the shitter.

Diplo’s understated electronic production is great, but Usher’s voice is the star of the show. The dude’s got pipes, and he’s got range. “Climax” utilizes that range in a way that’s not present in most of his catalog. The vocal performance doesn’t feel show off-y, either. Every hairpin turn he does with his voice feels natural to the song. He sings the chorus in a creamy falsetto, while the verses are delivered in a near whisper. The second verse finds him near the bottom of his register, and he launches into a full-on belt during the bridge. It’s a breathtaking show of skill, and Usher rightfully won the Best R&B Performance Grammy for his efforts. Sadly, I don’t have a ton of hope for future Usher albums. Might “Climax” be the last unassailable single he ever puts out?

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