Arista/BMG – 2001 - 65 minutes
21st Century Soul has two camps: in the red corner, the nu classic soul warriors with a nostalgic, rootsy sound – step forward Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, D'Angelo and Jill Scott; in the blue corner, the R'n'B camp are more interested in capitalism and technology – the smooth, cybersheen of Timbaland, Destiny's Child, Sisquo and Usher.
The title of Usher's new album speaks volumes about the singer's imagination. 8701 might have been assembled by computer – the song titles are spelt like text messages, the cover has the obligatory shot of Usher in bare chest and baggy trousers, the lyrics are painfully banal.
R'n'B's saving grace has been its inventive production, but few of 8701's jams will turn heads. 'U Remind Me' is passable pop, 'Can't Let Go' has a nice 80s sound until it takes an ill-advised turn into Metallica territory. The ballads are simply vile – 'Help Me' even awards Usher the dubious honour of being the male Whitney Houston.
Usher's vocals make me wonder why it is that R'nB superstars sing like big girl's blouses. I suppose Smokey Robinson had something to do with it, but it's tragic that there is little sign of the new Isaac Hayes or Barry White. It won't be Usher, that's for sure. He's more like Barry Manilow.
Tracklisting: Intro-lude 8701 - U Remind Me - I Don't Know (featuring P Diddy) - Twork It Out - U Got It Bad - Pop Ya Collar - If I Want To - I Can't Let U Go - U Don't Have To Call - Without U (interlude) - Can U Help Me - How Do I Say - Hottest Thing - Good Ol' Ghetto - U-Turn - T.T.P. – Separated