Libra Scale (released Nov. 22, 2010)
Who was the marketing genius that decided to release Ne-Yo's new album the same day as Kanye West and Nicki Minaj? No wonder Libra Scale flew under the radar.
I've been known to dismiss Ne-Yo at times myself. It was Progressive Soul's Desiree who introduced me to Ne-Yo years back. Back then I wrote him off as another faceless R&B singer (before they were an endangered species) who was sure to be a one-hit wonder. But his debut, In My Own Words, made me a fan.
Since then, I've had a love-hate relationship with the guy - I love his creativity and solid songwriting but I hate his constant pining after Michael Jackson. It's one thing to be influenced by the guy, it's another to totally rip off his style.
Libra Scale is yet another MJ-influenced project. Sort of like Moonwalker, Michael's sci-fi video collection from the late 80s, Ne-Yo's new album is the story of a superhero battling for love. Most listeners will only pick up that concept via the album's linear notes and Ne-Yo's latest music videos - the five of you who still watch videos, that is. The actual songs mostly sound like typical smoothed-out Ne-Yo fare, for better or for worse.
The album starts really strong with the upbeat "Champagne Life," which manages to get the party started without the usual radio-friendly cliches (like substituting actual singing for psuedo-rapping - see Songz, Trey). The remainder of the album is pretty low-key. "Know Your Name" breezes by gently while "Telekinesis" creatively uses the superhero theme to set the mood. Things pick up a bit with the feel-good "One In A Million" (no, not THAT one...) but Ne-Yo again stays in his comfort zone.
And that's the problem. The album is a bit too safe. With just 10 songs in the set, the album's brisk running time doesn't allow much room for mistakes. Inoffensive but ho-hum, generic tracks like "Genuine Only" and "Crazy Love" really hurt the album in the long run. "Beautiful Monster" employs those annoying Euro-techo synths that have corrupted most of today's R&B songs. It's like the new auto-tune - everyone uses it and it still sucks. And "Cause I Said So" is the requisite MJ copycat track - Ne-Yo imitates Michael so much that you wind up thinking to yourself "man, I wish this was a real MJ song." I'm pretty sure that's not what Ne-Yo was going for.
Libra Scale winds up being a solid release, but it'll definitely get lost in the shuffle of high-profile releases this quarter. It's not quite the big-budget film it aims to be. If Kanye West's album is Batman Begins, Libra Scale is Batman Forever - good, but it could have been much more.
At least it's not Batman and Robin - that honor goes to Nicki.
Best tracks: "Champagne Life," "Telekinesis," "Know Your Name"
3.5 stars out of 5