Ten years ago, Usher released the best album of his career. It ended up being the last great album the music industry would release. Here’s why we still scream ‘Yeah!’
Usher’s Confessions, which dropped on March 23, 2004 was the last great album. Period. It was the last album released in the 2000’s that sold Diamond (10 million copies). It was the last album that was water cooler material. It was the last album that you couldn’t escape. It was everywhere. And it’s arguably R&B’s last great album.
Confessions benefitted from being released right before the explosion of internet gossip sites. Usher was one of the last pop stars with a mystique. “He came, he danced, he vanished” would be the best way to sum up his career and his public persona prior to 2004. His biggest fans, R&B fans, pop music fans, and casual Usher fans knew nothing about Usher Raymond. When he dropped Confessions, it was the first real, supposed glimpse of Usher’s life. Well, his dating life. It was no secret that Usher was considered a huge heartthrob since his breakout 1997 album My Way. It was also no secret that he was dating TLC member Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, who just happened to be one of the hottest women in the entertainment industry. When word got out on the eve of Confessions release that Usher more than likely cheated on Thomas, and that he was spilling the tea throughout Confessions, many people bought the album in droves, just to hear the juicy details. What’s really interesting to ponder is if gossip websites like Bossip.com and PerezHilton.com had existed when Usher released Confessions, would the “inquiring minds” sector of the public who bought the album, actually have bought the album?
As far as the music, Confessions was damn near perfect. Well, the album was really, really well done. But that lead single?
Arguably the best radio single of the 2000s’. The only song I can think of that comes close is OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” Yeah!” was one of those rare stadium shakers. Those anthems that compel you to sing a song out loud with perfect strangers. As I mentioned earlier, there was no escaping the album, and there was no way to evade this single. Nightclubs, parties, sports events, wedding receptions, “Yeah!” was getting played. It’s a song in the category of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”, or “When Doves Cry”. It was Usher’s “Billie Jean”. Even now, when the song drops and you hear Usher scream “Peace up, A-Town down!”, and that synthesizer kicks in, people get collective goose bumps. “Yeah!” was the song you sang along to in your car, sang along to at your job, and then sang along to it at the bar after you got off work. From 2004 to 2005, the song was in the friggin’ air. We breathed that song.
The rest of the album was fantastic. “Burn” was one of the best breakup songs in recent memory. “Confessions Part II” was ridiculously in the pocket, and one of the first songs to keep internet chat rooms buzzing for months. (Fact: One of Confessions producers, Jermaine Dupri, has stated that this particular song was based on his experiences, not Usher’s.) What’s really interesting is while Lil’ Jon and Dupri produced Confessions biggest radio singles, the “meat” of the album was produced by none other than legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terri Lewis. Dupri and Lil’ Jon had the heat, but the album’s heart and mood were constructed by Jam and Lewis. Don’t sleep on “Simple Things” and “Bad Girl”.
Usher’s professional/personal saga got…interesting after the release of Confessions. But despite up and down follow up albums, marriage and divorce, and a pre-nutso Chris Brown parking squarely in his lane, one thing is certain. In 2004, Usher delivered the best album of his career, a monster that, due to rapid changes in the music industry and commerce, we’ll probably never see the likes of again. And, plainly put, Confessions did what great albums used to do. It knocked all of us on our asses.
Photo theboyinyellow Flickr