On the Eve of the Super Bowl, Usher Proves His Mastery

It has taken perseverance, extraordinary musical gifts and a little luck for Usher to land where he is right now. At 45, the R&B singer and songwriter Usher Raymond is releasing his new album, “Coming Home,” just two days before he will headline the Super Bowl halftime show. In December 2023, he completed an acclaimed 100-show residency in Las Vegas. His single “Good Good,” released last summer, has racked up tens of millions of plays on Spotify. It’s one of the 20 tracks on “Coming Home,” an album that sums up and expands what Usher does best.

Usher returns in familiar guises on “Coming Home,” his ninth solo album, and first since 2016. He plays a loyal partner (“Keep on Dancin’”), a sensualist (“Please U”), a heartsick ex (“Cold Blooded”), a somewhat repentant cheater (“On the Side”), a confident stud (“Big”) and a proud product of Atlanta (“A-Town Girl,” a catalog of local references that samples Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”).

The personas are familiar, and so is Usher’s musical universe, with the supple physicality of his vocals floating in electronic soundscapes. But he still comes up with ingenious variations on his longtime subjects. “Good Good,” which features Summer Walker and 21 Savage, is a downright mature post-breakup song about genuinely staying friends afterward. “Usually my exes turn to enemies/But this is different,” Usher marvels.

Usher is three decades into a recording career that hit its first commercial peak with his 1997 album, “My Way,” and earned him five consecutive No. 1 albums from 2004 (the blockbuster “Confessions”) to 2012 (“Looking 4 Myself”). He carries the skills of the analog era — when real-time performance was everything — into the digital landscape, making music that’s exquisitely calculated but still places his voice at its emotional core.

That voice can be grainy or lascivious or achingly sincere, and it easily ascends to an otherworldly falsetto. Usher draws deeply on some of the best elements of Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. He’s also a precise, disciplined and riveting dancer — something to look forward to at the Super Bowl.

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