Y’all ready ladies? Nineties R&B loverman Usher is back with a new album ahead of his Super Bowl halftime show and his mission is clear. “I’m literally speaking to every woman,” he told Vogue last month, “I want to make it feel like that.” How you feel about that will depend on your threshold for Coming Home’s smooth-bossing seduction style. What Usher lacks by way of foreplay (“I wanna be inside ya/ I’ll be coming” is the album’s second line) he compensates for with stamina: smooching his way through 20 tracks of mostly silky-solid grooves.
Coming Home is enlivened by a cool cast of collaborators sharing the mic. Nigeria’s Burna Boy (who made Grammy history last week as the first Afrobeat artist to perform at a ceremony) adds a little rhythmic and vibrato spice to the catchy title track, which almost distracts from a rather alarming chorus on which Usher urgently repeats “won’t you open your legs/ And I leave you for dead” over a hooky synth throb, finger-snapping backing crew and percussive panting.
Elsewhere, Usher finds himself more willing to “take requests”. On “I am the Party”, he assures a lover: “If you want me to slow it down/ Don’t be shy, girl/ Look me in the eye girl… I want my energy to match yours.” He’s in a similar mood on “Stone Kold Freak” on which he rhymes his yearning for “different positions” with an assurance he’ll “ask your permission first”.
Over the late-night piano of “Risk it All”, Usher slips into a fluffy hotel robe of a falsetto to confess he’s “feeling like I’m about to fall” while Oscar-winning R&B musician HER winds a slippery vocal around him, as together they celebrate a love they hope isn’t “tragic/ problematic”. On “Luckiest Man”, he makes less effort with the poetry: “Like a wishbone/ Got a big bone/ Gonna put it in ya.”
For every love anthem on the record, there’s a break-up track. “Cold Blooded” (ft The-Dream) sees Usher lamenting wasting his love on a “pretty eyed/ pretty thighed” girl who turned on him “at the drop of a dime” against a murky bass line. It’s a bit of a whiny complaint to hear from the 45-year-old crooner. He comes off cooler on “Good Good” – a conscious uncoupling ballad on which Usher celebrates his deepening friendship with a lover in the wake of romance.
Summer Walker swings by halfway through the track with a sweet wish for her ex to find the right girl, while later on the album 21 Savage drops in with an unexpectedly specific offer to buy his lover wigs for her new salon – that is, if she wants to open one. “Kissing Strangers” is more likely to make drive time radio slots with its swirling melodic regrets: Usher swoops up and down his range as he searches his soul for the answer to a tongue-twisting question: “How did we go from strangers kissing to kissing strangers?”
One of the album’s weirder moments is a reworking of Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” as “A-Town Girl” (featuring a taut brag of rap from “Southside b****” Latto) on which Usher switches up the 1983 boxer’s serenade into a tribute to an Atlanta girl who carries a “blicky” (pistol) and won’t spend any of her independently earned money. The track is so naff it will either sink without a trace or go viral on TikTok. I was more into the funk snap of “I Love U” – despite its odd assurance that “when I say ‘I don’t care’ that just means ‘I love you’”.
There are some Eighties-style, Latin-inflected disco bops, too. “Keep on Dancing” carries an echo of Gloria Estefan’s 1987 hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”, while “BIG” layers flamboyant brass fanfares over its squirmy synth line.
Clearly, Usher hasn’t worked his way through three Las Vegas residencies without learning how to bring the party pizzazz. It all bodes well for an entertaining Super Bowl show, aimed with cheesy intimacy at every single one of the millions of female viewers.