Picks and Pans Review: Confessions

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Usher

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Although he's only 25, it seems like Usher, washboard abs and all, has been around forever. He made his full-length debut at 15 with 1994's self-titled set and, since then, has remained one of R&B's hottest heartthrobs while other former teen phenoms (Tevin Campbell, anyone?) have disappeared from the spotlight. Usher's latest, the follow-up to 2001's multiplatinum 8701, is another can't-miss disc that, while not breaking any new ground, finds the artist maturing as both a singer and songwriter (he cowrote nine songs) and once again tapping into the sound of the moment. That sound is crunk, a bass-heavy form of southern hip-hop, on the album's first single, "Yeah!," which has already hit No.1 on the Billboard pop and R&B charts. Usher is joined by two fellow Atlantans, rappers Ludacris and Lil Jon (who also produced the song), for this club banger that will indeed have you shouting, "Yeah!" The song gets the disc off to a stellar start, and Usher keeps it going with tracks like the tender breakup ballad "Burn," which seems to allude to the singer's split with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC, and "Caught Up," a lean and funky dance number that shows off his improved vocals. Elsewhere Usher enlists producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for two breezily soulful, midtempo tunes, "Truth Hurts" and "Simple Things," which recall their collaboration on 2001's hit "U Remind Me." While the first two-thirds of Confessions is tight, though, the CD falters toward the end with standard slow jams like "Can U Handle It?," one of several sexually charged cuts. And bad sequencing buries one of the best tracks, the thumping party jam "Take Your Hand." Still, there are more than enough strong songs here to guarantee that fans will continue to have it bad for Usher.

R&B

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