Usher – “Good Kisser”

by Grant Tillery

Classic R&B is characterized by its raw authenticity that communicates primal urgency rarely felt in the saccharine, soulless pseudo-R&B of today.  Old school R&B is romantic music; instead of fleeing from emotions (like the Weeknd’s depraved dirges), it’s extremely seductive and up-front.  Though many R&B artists have abandoned their roots, Usher bucks this trend, and his new single, “Good Kisser,” which dropped Monday, is arguably the best song of 2014 so far.

Usher’s beat on “Good Kisser” blows away his contemporaries because it’s built upon a drum and bass  riff instead of a looped sample.  Though Usher would be the last musician I’d expect to adhere to the philosophy of more cowbell, he employs it to create a jazzy effect, making “Good Kisser” a perfect late-night song in the vein of Leon Ware (one of Marvin Gaye’s many songwriters).  Usher’s lyricism combines the romantic overtures of the ‘70s with the blunt propositions that permeate hip-hop tracks, though the latter is sneakily veiled through euphemisms and down-accents. 

Make sure you watch the music video; Usher’s choreography is a lesson on the art of simplicity and instinct.  He keeps grandiose steps at a minimum, mostly moving to a series of impulses spurred by the kinetic energy of the bottom-heavy drum and bass combo.  It’s easy to slap the label “art” on any provocative music video, and it’s hard to make the case that “Good Kisser’s” video is such, but it is a portrait of basic human desire (of course dolled up for marketing purposes) that makes you believe every word Usher drawls.  Usher’s languid delivery and unhurried movements inhabit the grey zone between coming on too strong and not coming on strong enough, part of what makes the song (and old school R&B) compelling.

“Good Kisser” is a sneak peek at Usher’s next album, which is untitled as of now and due out later this year.  Hopefully it finds Usher returning to his R&B roots for more than this track; it’s where he shines (his 2012 misstep, “Looking 4 Myself,” proved detached chillness is not his forte), and he has the magic touch to save R&B from the doldrums.