Soulful Ne-Yo Adds His Own Masterpiece To R&B Genre
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Since “So Sick” first permeated the charts in 2006, Ne-Yo has been a distinctive force in music, with his singles valued as nothing less than industry gold. Yet his fourth studio album, Libra Scale, never measured up to previous efforts. After shaving off his stylistic peach fuzz, Ne-Yo returns this November with R.E.D. (Realizing Every Dream), with newly-grown artistic stubble evident in his work.
In “Cracks in Mr. Perfect,” Ne-Yo opens the album with an intelligently posed concession of his faults in character. It’s a portrait of an industry’s obsession with human fallibility. With infidelity, sexual irreverence, and fiscal irresponsibility so deeply ingrained in the culture of songwriting, it’s refreshing to see an artist candidly address these motifs: “I know it may sound silly to you / Truthfully it silly to me too / But that’s what makes this song so true.” Ne-Yo’s sound on this track pulls heavily from contemporaries like Frank Ocean and John Legend. It’s more tastefully produced than what we’ve heard from him before. “Lazy Love,” the first single off the album, is a first-class outing in songwriting and musicality. Ne-Yo breaks away from the prepackaged punch typical of today’s R&B. Instead, he celebrates the soulful, organic nature of the genre, namely what Usher failed to accomplish this year with Looking 4 Myself.
The album’s second single, “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself),” is the blockbuster on the album, adopting a Europop sound, and providing all the explosive energy expected of Ne-Yo. But however laden it may be with dance beats and synth riffs, the single’s true focus is songwriting. Ne-Yo advances the notion of human imperfection introduced in “Cracks in Mr. Perfect,” developing it into a basis for self-love: “Girl, let me love you / And I will love you / Until you learn to love yourself.”
One of the greatest strengths of R.E.D. is Ne-Yo’s emphasis on genuine relationships. In “No Church in the Wild,” Kanye West all too appropriately posed, “Love is cursed by monogamy.” Pop culture’s recent struggle to deconstruct the conventionalities of love is not without artistic merit, but Ne-Yo’s effort to rebuild them is a strikingly bolder stance. “Don’t Make Em Like You” is the album’s “toast to the ladies with class.” Ne-Yo salutes the girls who leave the club early for work or class the next day, proposing that the foundation of love is this sense of self-worth. “Be The One” is the story of saving a girl from a seemingly abusive relationship: “I don’t know the whole story / But I’m assuming it wasn’t your fault.” Throughout the album, there’s this overwhelming sense that Ne-Yo is simply a good guy. In the spirit of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” Ne-Yo stays true to his R&B roots by throwing “Stress Reliever” onto the album. No matter how you dress it up, it’s a song about making the nasty, but more than that, it’s an experimental endeavor, best compared to efforts of Canadian artist The Weeknd. In stark contrast, Ne-Yo teams up with country star Tim McGraw on “She Is,” creating an exceptionally mature country-R&B lovechild. The ability of R.E.D.’s sound to transcend genres gives Ne-Yo’s work a newfound importance—it’s not about the killer singles as it was before, but rather the push-and-pull required to reinvent R&B. Ne-Yo teams up with Fabolous and Diddy on “Should Be You,” the “Marvin’s Room” of the album. It explores a darker longing for relationships past: “As I lay here with some girl I don’t know / In the back of my mind, one million times / I tell myself it should be you.” It’s another “Crack in Mr. Perfect,” and the painful honesty behind it makes it one of the album’s best tracks.
Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo’s super-single “Let’s Go” makes its dramatic appearance as a bonus track on R.E.D., but it’s important to note it acts as a frame for the album, as opposed to Ne-Yo’s previous efforts in which the album framed the singles. In this regard, R.E.D. does more than just revitalize Ne-Yo’s career: it redefines it. It’s an R&B album certainly not lacking in fireworks, but truly becomes a spectacle by the means of its art.