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album review | R&B

Usher gets lots of help on ‘Looking’

One track on Usher’s latest album, out Tuesday, is credited to nine songwriters. Another two tracks feature eight. No wonder the urban pop superstar is looking for himself.

Of course the approach of songwriting by committee — or, in some cases, authors of sampled works receiving credit — is nothing new in pop music in general, or Usher albums specifically. But the groupthink does drain some of the individuality and soul from the process. (As does the unnecessary deployment of Auto-tune on a singer who can actually hold his own vocally.)

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As such, many of the songs here could just as easily be plugged into an album by any artist who traffics in making the kind of pulsating Euro-disco that conjures images of sweaty, beachside Ibizan nightclubs where white curtains billow around VIP sections drowning in bottle service — like, say, Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez.

With a formidable army of writer-producers including Max Martin, Nate “Danja” Hills, and Salaam Remi manning the helm, Usher pumps out perfectly serviceable and au courant dancefloor-to-bedroom jams like “Scream,” “Show Me,” and “I Care for You” — which actually sounds like someone was playing an old-school arcade game during the recording and they just left it in. You will dance, but you might not be moved.

The best songs here have the fewest cooks and literal bells and whistles, including the ’80s throwback title track, the Pharrell Williams futuristic-retro hybrid “Twisted,” and the melodic pleader “Dive.” (Out Tuesday)

SARAH RODMAN


ESSENTIAL “Looking 4 Myself”

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