Infidelity has been very good for our man Usher.

Back in 2004, the star-who-would-be-the-next-Michael Jackson scored the biggest hit of his career not to mention one of the largest-selling albums of the last decade with "Confessions," a CD that reveled in his allergy to commitment. According to many fans, the songs also found Usher copping to alley-catting around on his former gal pal, Rozonda (Chilli) Thomas of TLC.

Instead of all this landing him in Jesse James' territory, however, Usher's role as horndog extraordinaire provided a necessary bridge between his earlier image as teen idol and his budding one as an adult pop icon.

Then, on his followup CD, "Here I Stand," Usher reversed himself entirely. There, he sang gooey songs about his new marriage to Tameka Foster, and even ickier ones about the new child they had together.

The result? One-10th the sales of "Confessions" and a big fat yawn from critics.

Now, it seems, things have turned back around again. In the time since, Usher got divorced from Ms. Foster, a move which has freed him, on his litigiously named new CD, "Raymond v. Raymond," to now sing about infidelity and fresh sex partners to his heart's content.

There's even one song, "Papers," that directly addresses the divorce.

So are happy times here again?

Not exactly. While Usher certainly sounds more comfortable singing about chasing hotties than he ever did vowing eternal love, the new music doesn't have "Confessions"' illicit thrill.

"Confessions" caught a moment in time. It pioneered the mix of R&B and the then ascending crunk sound in the huge single "Yeah!" It also struck a Jackson-esque balance of rock tension and R&B sensuality in hits like "Caught Up."

Nothing on "Raymond v. Raymond" rises to that savvy peak.

Its hottest track the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced "Monstar" repeats some of the edge they brought to the better Janet Jackson singles of the '90s. But it doesn't advance it. A song like "OMG," overseen by the excessively employed will.i. am, sounds as annoying as the tech-speak it mimics.

Of course, comparisons to a blockbuster CD like "Confessions" always prove a losing game for the artist. But at least "Raymond v. Raymond" has more verve than "Here I Stand." It's solidly listenable and Usher's voice has never sounded more sinewy. In an age of Auto-Tune, it's nice to hear an R&B singer who doesn't need it, even if market forces did entice him to indulge it in that cynical will i. am song.

Then again, if Usher were growing as an artist, we would fully believe the second meaning of the album's title that he's warring with his own wandering eye.

But we don't. Instead, Usher simply seems like he's reverting to easy type, milking his old role as a cad too cute to stay angry with for long.

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