Well-established as a hitmaker for other artists, Ne-Yo is now five studio albums into his own career – and also now a senior vice president for A&R for his new recording home, Motown Records.
It’s a nifty fit, as the sometime-Atlantan embodies many of the best qualities of Motown’s storied acts. He’s a guy who understands the importance of a complete song, not just a hook to grab a radio program director’s ear, and his silken vocals recall more than a bit of Smokey Robinson and even, at times, a young Michael Jackson.
On “R.E.D.,” which stands for Realizing Every Dream, Ne-Yo presents himself in a less-than-flattering light immediately.
His first words on the album’s opening track, the soulful “Cracks in Mr. Perfect,” are “After this song, you’re gonna love me for my honesty or you’re gonna hate me for being real.”
The latter is more likely for most of the ladies hearing it, but kudos to him for having something to say and even copping to being a “little irresponsible most of the time.”
While the piano-based club thumper “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)” might strike some as Usher-lite, it’s Ne-Yo’s commitment to storytelling and decision to make his songs more than throwaway bedroom seducers that elevates him among his peers.
Then again, he’s certainly not going to turn away when “Miss Right” walks by, making a convincing case in that velvety finger-snapper for the lady to head in his direction.
Ne-Yo also serves up a couple of interesting guest slots – Wiz Khalifa and Tim McGraw – an incongruous pair that perfectly symbolizes the singer-songwriter’s desire to cross boundaries.
Wiz’s guest turn comes on “Don’t Make ‘Em Like You,” a heavily synthesized, quirkily produced confection that sounds tailored for mainstream radio play, while “She Is,” with McGraw, is a stripped, acoustic guitar-based ballad about a breakup that resides under the Taylor Swift definition of country (and the “all because of she” chorus is not exactly grammatically correct, but that’s another story).
Among the standouts on “R.E.D.” is “Forever Now,” which combines all of Ne-Yo’s strengths – a fizzy dance beat, a simple piano melody and a plaintive, internal look at love.
He’s hit a winning formula many times before (see: Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” which he co-wrote), and on “R.E.D.,” he kickstarts a new hot streak.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene