(Arista) "I know this is somethin' I gotta do," whispers Usher, "but that don't mean I want to." He's talking about ending a relationship, but the sentiment could as easily apply to the many confessions laced throughout his fifth album. After four outings of polite, romantic soul, the pressure has grown on the 25-year-old crooner to reveal more than just his chiseled abs to audiences jaded by increasingly raunchy R&B.

So Usher confesses: to knocking up "the girl that I was creepin' with"; to being more than just a candlelight-and-Babyface lover who fantasizes about "biting, scratching, spanking, screaming." He might have confessed to burying Jimmy Hoffa in the end zone at the Meadowlands, had the album gone on longer. Maybe his reserve wasn't so strange; this is a guy still managed by his mother, after all. And after all the soul-baring, Usher's at his finest on the songs you could take home to Mom -- and that still happens to be most of them. The Jam-Lewis ballad "Simple Things" and "Burn," a yearning chronicle of an affair flaming out, don't reveal as much -- except Usher's peerless way with the polite, romantic soul that this album was supposed to help him transcend. Thus, Confessions ends up an inadvertent admission that maybe his secrets belong on the down low, after all. -- Dan LeRoy


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