The Square Table 3/ Usher – “Burn”

Pop Factor: 442 Controversy Score: 240

The plot of “Burn” is simple. It’s not working, is it? – Damn, it was working. Having ‘been there’, it’s hard not to cheer the pivot-moment (“till you return”), especially when the tremulous voice and the heavy arrangement are playing nice-cop/nasty-cop on you. But not ‘being there’ now, my head is feeling this one more than my heart: there are lots of little touches I like (the quiet shuffle of electronics at the start, for instance) but that climax is the only point where the song stops being decent and grabs me. 7 (Tom)

The swain’s refrain fails mainly to explain, over four minutes and eighteen seconds, what’s left of him after fifty-‘leven days and umpteen hours. You get to the end of it to find that the music’s too cheerful and the man’s too evasive. The real story? She left him. “Burn”‘s the face-saving story you, the unlucky listener cornered and hemmed for a round of solitary sadness, get to hear. My advice? Tell him to sob off. 0 (George Kelly)

Usher: “I don’t understand why. See it’s burning me to hold onto this. I know this is something I gotta do. But that don’t mean I want to. What I’m trying to say is that I love you, I just I feel like this is coming to an end. And I don’t understand why…”

Stevie: “I don’t either, honey, but I know one thing: this song is really boring.” 0 (Stevie Nixed)

Goodness me, isn’t Usher meant to be all SMOOVE? Instead of the coolest be-capped King o t’Dancefloor who sang to us YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! we now have a sniffly little sod wiping his nose on his sleeve before going to his mam’s house for some roast beef crisps. Quite frankly I couldn’t stand more than 2 minutes of this song, after being CONVINCED it had already lasted a Yes-style epic 8 minutes. Imagine being stuck in a conversation with him! Stop this Nu-Man nonsense right now! I blame “Mens Health” magazine. What a load of todgers! On the plus side, the beats remind me a bit of Ignition (Remix), but you know. 2 (Sarah C)

Usher is a SOMETIMES turn on for me; when he’s hot, he’s real hot. When he’s not, he’s tremendously disposable. This track falls into the weak category for me. Synth strings, predictable beats, lyrics that were old when Jodeci sang them. Usher’s a fine crooner, but after ten listens I think I still would have trouble picking this track out of a quietstorm lineup. “Burn” is an absolutely inoffensive wash of Urban elevator music, only about a tenth as compelling as “Feelin’ On Ya Booty”, which I just queued up to clear the palate. 3 (Forksclovetofu)

The only reason why people are taking this generic and souless piece of R & B seriously is that it is about two people who are famous and how one of them fucked around, right? There cannot be anything interesting in this maudlin dreck? 3 (Anthony Easton)

I suppose we should give Usher some credit, as he has managed to summarise most of his traits in the space of one single – drossy ballading, excessively high notes, shout out to the fell-uhs, attempt to coin new and rubbish catchphrase (see also ‘Pop Ya Collar’, ‘The U-Turn’), and dance moves of impressive dexterity but precisely bugger-all emotion or expressive purpose. Features neither Ludacris nor Li’l Jon. 3 (William B Swygart)

Sing along:

It’s the remix to Ignition
Hot and fresh out the kitchen
Usher’s pissed off with R Kelly
So it’s his tune he’s nicking.

I mean, by all means steal someone’s song, but don?t then call it something like the original as well. R Kelly started the fire, and Usher is happy to let it burn. 4 (Pete)

Heaven, Usher needs a hug. He wants to dump his shorty…and then get back with her…or get back with whomever he dumped to get at this current, soon-to-be-ex-shorty. The narrative confuses me. And “let it burn”?! This song couldn’t even singe a merengue. His vocals are, as always, impeccable. (No man this side of that McAlmont guy can soar into falsetto with such grace). And not a trace of melisma! The song skirts too close to “smooth jazz” territory, for my liking, though. I miss Lil Jon and his bag of “what!”s. 5 (Henry Scollard)

I had to look up one of those lyric sites with fifty popup windows just to make sure he actually did use the word ‘umpteen.’ And then I found he’d come up with ‘fifty-leven.’ Obviously after twenty-twelve months in Usher Time it’s been long enough to do something that sounds just like ‘You Got It Bad.’ I’m not saying it’s rubbish, it’s just nothing new. 5 (Bushra)

I want to know when ‘boo’ became the accepted hiphop term for Lady Friend, and whether it is as I suspect a bastardisation-cum-feminisation of ‘beau’. It’s a bit of a silly word, innit? Very hard to get the pathos when Usher wibbles ‘what’m I gonna doo-oooo! without mah booo-ooo!’ Other singers can pull it off: Usher, mediocre and anodyne, cannot.

The song is embarrassingly generic, the speechlike tumble of verse leavened only by a little internal rhyme and rhythmic emphases (just as in ‘you remind me’), his voice straining a little awkwardly as it passes into quiet falsetto range without any emotional effect. Everything in the arrangement, the production, is straight out of any given slow jam – I’m not into ballads, and I’m not into this. Points for using the word ‘umpteen’, but not many: 5 (Cis)

This sounds like a chilled-out r&b rip of Ignition (remix), but since I haven’t heard the original Ignition, maybe it’s just a straightforward copy. It’s smooth enough and works a lot better detached from the awful video, but it’s been a long time since Usher’s made me wanna… 6 (alext)

For four minutes he’s unsure about if he’s doing the right thing, so much that he has to ask his audience about it: “Ladies tell me do you understand? Now all my fellas do you feel my pain?” He’s more worried about having the nod of approval from his audience than about not hurting his girl, it seems. With a follow-up to “Yeah” as well crafted as this he doesn’t have to worry about the former. Yet I really can’t “feel him burning”. 6 (Diego Valladolid)

The faux sophistication of plucked guitars usually indicates a frigidity in ballads – it’s only when Usher hits the high notes that the tune feels momentarily sensuous. We’ve been here before with the “my new boo ain’t as good as you” lyrics, although when he sings about his party not jumpin’ anymore it’s certainly touching in a naive way. It’s an engagingly, almost sublimely soporific ballad with a feeling of late period genre-maturity. And yet it’s a bit indulgent to get my party jumping, really. 6 (Derek Walmsley)

I really like the style of R&B ballad that has appeared in the wake of Ignition (Remix). At its best there is a restrained tension, a power replacing the sometimes wet limpness that the form has always been prone to, even in what I see as the golden era of soul ballads, three-to-four decades ago. This does lean that way here and there, but the almost-rapped choral lines give it an insistence that easily balances the occasionally slightly thin vocal (at its worst halfway through with a very unconfident ‘ooh ooh ooh ooh’). It’s reported that it is about TLC’s Chilli; I don’t know if that’s true or even interesting (much as I adore her), but talking about apparently real past relationships does seem to be 2004’s big theme. 7 (Martin Skidmore)

Usher’s still a teenybopper at heart. It’s not the supremely unconvincing stab at a Barry White-ish opening monologue that makes “Burn” sound so good; it’s the weepy, sugary synth line and that there thing that sounds suspiciously like a Spanish guitar (but it can’t be, ’cause everyone knows you can’t make a good Anglo-American Pop record with a Spanish guitar.) This ain’t no “Love TKO”, this is “Autumn Goodbye”. On a related note: some people can pull off using terms like “boo” in a serious break-up song; Usher is not one of these people, which is why my initial 8 has been downgraded to a 7. (Daniel Riefferscheid)

E-mailing me the MP3 turns out to be unnecessary to the quadzillionth degree, since the only song from the past 6 months I’ve heard more than “Burn” is Mr. Raymond’s “Yeah”. Sometimes I wish the track featured “legitimate” instrumentation (violins, cellos, other music boxes made from wood and catgut), but then the sincerity of the music would undoubtedly step on the toes of the lyrical sincerities, and then we’d be on some “All Cried Out” tip, which is not where anyone wants to be. Anyway, “Burn” is a great song (though the grandeur of the “break down and cry” bridge gets pissed on by the half-ass return to the chorus following all those sexy & lonely “hoo-hoo”s), and (it’s a fact!) is the lesser of The Three Usher Singles, which is why the grade is “only” a 7. (For the record – “Yeah” gets an 8.5, and “Confessions (Part II)” gets a 396.) Regardless, the Usher corporation can take solace in my gratitude for their avoidance of the goddamn “fire / desire” rhyme. Thunderclap! 7 (David Raposa)

Usher is okay, I like him, he seems like an affable chap. Much more likeable than that creepy JT. This song is nice, it sounds like a lot of care was taken when making it. The backing is simple, and I like all the changes in vocal style, and the way the vocals float and intercept each other. 8 (jel)