Usher has sold more than 45 million albums. He has been voted one of the sexiest men in music.
The 32-year-old U.S. pop-soul singer knows it.
He enters wearing a cyber costume and then changes to a military-man corset and a red leather jacket. The ladies scream. He invokes the ghost of Michael Jackson. More screams. He strips off the jacket. He’s got a great way with a pop hook and the sweetest voice, with just enough of an edge and no need for nasty electronic studio effects.
What could possibly go wrong? His sculpted pectorals glisten with sweat, his falsetto soars, his gem-encrusted trainers dazzle. For all this, Usher fails to shine with his live show, which is more a display of technique than of raw charisma.
Usher’s 70-date worldwide OMG tour, as seen at concerts in London’s O2, is criss-crossing Europe this month, moving on to Dubai and Australia next month and New Zealand in April.
The tempo is frequently smoochy, Usher indulging in slow exhortations to all-night loving. “Love In This Club” sounds not so much romantic as hygienic.
Usher’s show is polished, a little too slick. The band is professional, hits flow and dancers grind.
“Yeah!” marries stark hip hop beats, wobblesome bass and insidious chorus in Jackson fashion. The staging, after a clumsy overkill of science-fiction imagery for the uptempo opening, is a masterpiece of multimedia design, an immaculate backdrop to Usher’s yearnings.
For all his musical insinuations to the contrary, Usher remains too clean, planned and safe to channel any real superstar presence.
Usher is on LaFace Records, part of Sony Music Entertainment. Information: http://www.ushernow.com/
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)