Ne-Yo - Topic

R.E.D. Play

Libra Scale was the first Ne-Yo release that failed to go platinum. The quasi-concept album didn't come close to making it halfway there. The singer and songwriter, however, wasn't on the brink of recording covers for Shanachie. The album's "Champagne Life" was long lasting on commercial radio, and featured spots on Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" (number one Hot 100), Young Jeezy's "Leave You Alone" (number three Hot R&B/Hip-Hop), and Calvin Harris' "Let's Go" (number 17, Hot 100) propped him up through the release of this, his first album for Motown -- the label employing him as Senior Vice President of A&R. Given Ne-Yo's success with Euro-flavored dance-pop and the continued marginalization of R&B, chances were slim that he would be inspired by his new label to stick to the latter genre. In terms of its place in the Motown legacy, R.E.D. is much closer to a modern-day Dancing on the Ceiling -- with several variations on the title track -- than In a Special Way. This is actually back-loaded with dance-pop; while the serviceable but indistinct "Let Me Love You" comes along early and the dance-pop/R&B hybrid "Be the One" leads the second half, the three-track closing stretch reveals dance-pop as the dominant style. Ne-Yo does not go through the motions, but the songs carry an air of "going about my job in a compliant, professional manner." There's a contemporary country duet co-written by Luke Laird (Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Eric Church) and co-sung by Tim McGraw, as well as an adult contemporary ballad. The highlights are all casual, subtle, finely detailed midtempo numbers and slow jams. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Year of the Gentleman Play

Apart from a little more drama, a notion set with the desperate urgency of opening track "Closer," not much makes Year of the Gentleman, Ne-Yo's third album in as many years, all that different from In My Own Words or Because of You. If there are any real shake-ups in the songwriter/singer's m.o., they are subtle, not glaring, typically evident only in the production wrinkles brought by his collaborators. Had each album been separated by a few years of inactivity, this lack of change might be an issue, but since breaking out with Mario's "Let Me Love You" in 2004, Ne-Yo has been nothing if not steady and consistent, a constant presence in the R&B chart who probably could not devise a gimmick if his career depended upon it -- unless you hold those natural and often uncanny Michael Jackson vocalisms, as present as ever throughout highlight "Nobody," against him. What makes the album slightly less satisfying than Ne-Yo's first two albums is that the ballads are slightly sappier and overwrought. The odds are in his favor, however, that no one has written a more gorgeous song about slothful self-loathing. That song, "Why Does She Stay," forms the front end of a two-track patch of glorious gloom -- the album's center, both literally and figuratively -- complemented by "Fade into the Background," where he watches the one who got away get married. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

In My Own Words Play

Shaffer Smith has been writing material for mainstream acts since the tail end of the '90s, when he was barely old enough to drive. In 2004, after he adopted the name Ne-Yo -- a sensible move since his birth name is more like that of a sitcom actor or anchorman than an R&B loverman -- his industry stock shot way up for co-writing Mario's "Let Me Love You," an inescapable number one hit. The pointedly titled In My Own Words is the second album he has made as a solo artist, but it's the first to be released, and its presentation clearly intends to get the point across that he's a writer, with images of lyric sheets strewn across the accompanying booklet, and the photo props of choice are pencils and pads, not practically naked models and probably rented sports cars. In My Own Words is a concise album with only one guest verse (from Peedi Peedi), unless you count the unlisted bonus remix (featuring Ghostface). It's very focused and surprisingly taut, especially for a debut that involves several producers. "So Sick," a hit single released in advance of the album, carries a vulnerability not unlike "Let Me Love You" -- it's certainly additional proof that Ne-Yo does heartache best of all -- but it's even more successful at staying on the right side of the line that separates heartfelt anguish from insufferable whining. Its modern approach, interlocked with touches of '70s and '80s R&B sensibilities, is also in effect for the entirety of the album. Beyond a couple lightweight tracks, the album only falters when scenarios from different relationships clash: in "Get Down Like That," Ne-Yo is a righteous boyfriend who turns down the advances of a tempting ex, while in "That Just Ain't Right," he confesses to an ex (who has been an ex for three years) that he calls out her name while in bed with his current lover. The problems, however, really aren't all that detrimental. Ne-Yo is a real talent as a songwriter, and as a vocalist he is unmistakably more concerned with serving the song than his ego. He's not the flashiest vocalist, but he's able to put across contrasting emotions with slight adjustments, and he balances toughness with tenderness exceptionally well -- all of which are uncommon traits in the early 2000s. This album could turn out to be the most impressive R&B debut of 2006, as well as one of several milestones in a lengthy career. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Because of You Play

In My Own Words, released in early 2006, was a major success for Ne-Yo. It was a number one album supported by two Top Ten singles and a third that peaked in the Top 20. As it kept gathering steam, the singer/songwriter/producer shrewdly continued to write for others: Rihanna's Top Ten "Unfaithful" and Beyoncé's number one "Irreplaceable" kept his profile on the rise through the end of the year. Indicating that he still has quality material to spare, Because of You comes just a little after a year after his debut, and it is just as solid. Though some of the accomplices remain, such as the Norwegian StarGate team (his partners on "So Sick," "Sexy Love," "Unfaithful," and "Irreplaceable") and Ron Feemster, the key to the album's potency and freshness is its differences from In My Own Words. None of the debut's singles were as upbeat as this album's lead single, "Because of You," a sophisticated yet youthful song for the dancefloor, one of many instances where it's evident that Ne-Yo has thoroughly absorbed Michael Jackson and Rod Temperton's rich vocal arrangements on Off the Wall. The album's closing quarter fulfills the contemporary ballad quota, but the preceding quarter provides imaginative and surprisingly adventurous arrangements, as well as some of the nastiest hooks. "Sex with My Ex," the wildest of these three songs, is somewhere between a screwed-and-chopped mix of Prince's "Delirious" and Diddy's "Last Night," its hard beat and synthesizer rays twisted into knots. It's also one of several moments where a newfound swagger is just as convincing as that of prime Usher. Making it to number one on your own, writing a major hit for one of the planet's most popular entertainers, and qualifying as the heir to R. Kelly can have that effect. Executive producer Jay-Z seems to know exactly what he has on his hands: on "Crazy," he completes his verse within the first 30 seconds, allowing his R&B franchise star to take over with no interruptions. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Libra Scale [Deluxe Edition] Play

Going by this high-concept return, it’s apparent that Ne-Yo was not strictly invested in the output of others -- Rihanna, Raheem DeVaughn, Monica, Rick Ross, and Fantasia, to name a few -- after the release of Year of the Gentleman. Although Libra Scale sounds like a natural extension of the singer/songwriter’s three-album 2006-2008 run, its germination started with a short story, which inspired the ten songs. Some of the details were revealed in the videos for the singles, as well as the album’s booklet, containing a comic put together with living legend Stan Lee. Disregard the dressing, and Libra Scale can be heard as a standard Ne-Yo album. It does not sound like a soundtrack for a story about three garbage men who must protect their city -- there are no character themes, likely for the better -- but one can hear most of the material being expressed by the protagonist as he lives it up, develops a relationship, and deals with the consequences. Most of Libra Scale consists of Ne-Yo's typical modern uptown R&B, with the relaxed, upscale party anthem “Champagne Life,” the sweet devotional “One in a Million,” and the private-reflecting-pond ballad “What Have I Done?” the standouts. “Beautiful Monster,” a Euro-flavored dance-pop single full of drama, is the only song that sounds out of place (and it stalled in the 60s of the Billboard R&B chart). The level of sophistication -- arrangements with subtle details, the frequency of slow tempos, a couple well-trodden motifs -- lends itself to a couple tepid tunes, but Ne-Yo remains a premier source of R&B that is both traditional and contemporary. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

The Collection Play

The Collection is a Japanese release that covers Ne-Yo's first three albums: In My Own Words (2006), Because of You (2007), and Year of the Gentleman (2008). "In the Way" originated as an iTunes-exclusive bonus track, while a remix of "Because of You," featuring an opening verse from Kanye West, comes from a single release. This is a handy, straightforward anthology since it contains each one of the singer and songwriter's singles released from 2005 through 2009. Seven of these cuts reached the Top Ten of Billboard's U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. They all made Ne-Yo one of the premier pop-R&B artists of the decade -- a rare artist who produced sophisticated, mature material that connected with younger audiences. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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