Usher and Diplo: a collaboration we actually like…
Michaela Drapes: Did you know that Usher uses the name Donny Hathaway when he checks into hotels? Well, he did in 1998, anyway. I laughed at him when I found this out, so I’m saying this now: Usher, dude, your life is kind of a mess, but congratulations on finally earning your stripes. The student has surpassed the master.
Jonathan Bogart: I know the timeline probably wouldn’t bear this out, but I like to imagine that trying to keep up with Romeo Santos‘s falsetto pushed Ursh back into creamy, ice-cool lovelorn R&B after having spun his wheels on heat-blasted RedOne dance pop. Diplo gives the monochromatic cod-Drake production more throb and pulse than Shebib usually manages, but it’s really all just a worked-up setting for that voice, patient and silken. Comparisons to blog-friendly R&B all fail on the basis that Usher — when he tries — can actually sing.
Jer Fairall: Usher goes all Abel Tesfaye with a gloomy and nearly minimalist track, but he’s still too much of a gooey romantic to engage in such debauched psychodrama. What is left over is an atmospheric elegance that will probably result in this being one of Usher’s lowest charters, but the small moment in which his voice soars expansively over a subtle bank of New Age-y synths, in particular, points towards an adventurous and, dare I say, mature new direction.
Alfred Soto: R. Kelly’s Love Letter used the coffee machine percussion and synth washes to similar effect, but Usher’s gifts root this in the present. Unlike so many love men, he achieves the generosity that his prodigious vocal talents reach for. It’s not just his feet that are off the ground.
John Seroff: An intro that suggests the “Katy on a Mission” hook announces the presence of veteran beat-jacker Diplo, the ghostly and spare orchestration is pure Nico Muhly and the understated whisper-to-falsetto crooning is unmistakably Usher. It’s a mix of the best of three worlds and they mesh nicely on “Climax”. This is what The Weeknd and the next generation of “Radiohead quietstorm” R&B artists are striving for: cool, vaguely creepy, two steps removed from immediate and deadly effective.
Andy Hutchins: Usher’s got some Abel Tesfaye going on before the #FuckingDiplo beat takes off near what sort of functions as the hook, though anything set against the strobes-at-midnight synths and rattling, tinny drums is going to sound hook-like, and then the bridge gives everything but, of course, the climax. There is something incredibly satisfying about a song like this that unfurls itself on both bedsheets and dancefloors at once.
Alex Ostroff: Despite the praise “Climax” will inevitably get from certain quarters for Diplo’s involvement, the most exciting thing about the track for me is just how much it sounds like the Usher of “Burn” and “U Got It Bad.” Since 2008, market forces have pushed Usher in the direction of will.i.am and JaySean Derülo et al. The beat may be slightly more electronic than typical, but the vocals are classic Usher midtempo balladry: smooth falsetto, and emoting that actually evokes feelings instead of merely signifying them. My favourite trick here is that any time the verses or bridge approach a climax — emotional or musical — they are swiftly undercut by the understated chorus cycling through yet again. Illustrating that a relationship has passed its climax by perversely preventing your performance from having one is smart and effective.
Edward Okulicz: I’m not the biggest fan of Usher, or Diplo, but it sounds atypical of the latter, and such a good example of something people tell me I don’t hear in the former. It’s classic and modern, and Usher demonstrates his rich adaptability to such an extent, I’m getting a little weak-kneed at the thought.
Brad Shoup: The lyrical switchbacks are vintage, er, People-What-Work-With-Usher, and all involved are to be commended for not taking the titular conceit on the obvious musical route. The bridge sounds more like worship music (notoriously light on the consummation); the flickers of dubstep and pneumatic synth patter create tension. Good to see he hasn’t stopped revisiting themes of possession and manipulation. Marvin would be proud.
Katherine St Asaph: “Climax” begs for the most repellent sort of criticism, overpraising it for being neither Top 40 nor straight R&B but closer to The Weeknd or The-Dream and thus “acceptable.” But even recognizing this, the pacing is pure, deliberate seduction, and there’s real craft in Usher’s singing (his delivery of “on my knees” is a come-on so rich and foolproof it’s only to be used sparingly) and how he makes “climax” not a double but triple entendre. November, meet your babies.