R.E.D. (released October 31, 2012)
You gotta respect a man who comes right out and tells you he's a piece of crap.
Well, maybe he doesn't go that far, but "Cracks In Mr. Perfect," the first track on Ne-Yo's fifth album, is a declaration of all his faults. "I'm a little irresponsible most of the time/I'm a man of my word only when I lie." Wow. But it's hard to pass judgement on a person who admits that he's not flawless. There's a bit of maturity in realizing you're fallible.
That track made me flash back to Ne-Yo's last release, 2010's Libra Scale - a surprisingly inconsistent release from a usually reliable artist. R.E.D. showcases a more focused Ne-Yo, tossing aside the awkward superhero metaphors of the last album for a more accessible R&B collection.
Ne-Yo is at his best when he's setting the mood, and first single "Lazy Love" is classic Ne-Yo. No matter how lustful the track, Ne-Yo somehow amplifies the sensuality without resorting to depravity. He makes "Lazy Love" a baby-maker, without turning it into a booty-shaker. "Stress Reliever" follows the same formula - I would call it "Grown N' Sexy" music but that phrase is played out that it should be called "Old N' Seventy."
Ne-Yo continues to show maturity on "Miss Right," where he pines after his dream girl. No lame pick-up lines, no lustful comments, no attempts to get her liquor'd up or "gone off the Molly" (parents, ask your kids about that one...) - he's simply enraptured by a woman and wants to introduce himself. Even his vocals lift with a sense of wonder. And while I'd usually give him grief over the overused "I'm envious of your clothes cuz they get to touch you more than I do" metaphor, Ne-Yo's pitch-perfect vocals on "Jealous" win me over.
Along with "Jealous," Ne-Yo does a bit more borrowing. "Carry On (Her Letter to Him)" mimics the old R. Kelly trick of stepping into the pumps of a wronged woman and the results are pretty solid. He even teams with Nelly's old buddy Tim McGraw on "She Is" and the duo gel well.
Let's not forget, Mr. Perfect does have cracks. "Don't Make Em Like You" sounded better four years ago when it was called "Miss Independent." And since this is a major-label R&B release, we're required to get that mind-numbing Euro-synthy-pop nonsense. "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)" isn't too bad because the lyrics don't totally drown in the repetitive beat. The same can't be said for similar tracks - in fact, drop the album's last three songs ("Forever Now," "Shut Me Down," and "Unconditional") and I'd bump up the album rating at least half a star.
Nope, R.E.D. is nowhere near perfect. But as Ne-Yo points out on "Cracks In Mr. Perfect," "perfect is just glorified opinion."
That's probably true. But I stand by my opinion - R.E.D. is Ne-Yo's best work in a long time.
Best tracks: "Miss Right," "Lazy Love," "Jealous"
4 stars out of 5