Non-Fiction (to be released January 27, 2015)
In just 10 years, Ne-Yo has become one of R&B’s biggest names and, lately, one of its most polarizing figures.
His early releases, specifically his stellar debut In My Own Words, was a great marriage of traditional R&B and contemporary themes. Credit his strong songwriting ability — he quickly was touted as this generation’s Babyface, a man who was equally adept with a microphone as he was with pad and pen.
But in recent years, Ne-Yo has diversified his sound, spending more time in the pulsating world of EDM with David Guetta and Pitbull than embracing his soulful roots. Of course, that direction has alienated many of Ne-Yo’s early fans.
Y’all know I’ve wasted thousands of keystrokes ranting against the oversaturation of EDM, cuz when it’s bad, it’s GOD AWFUL. On the other hand, it’s unwise — and unfair — to not expect an artist to experiment with new sounds. You can’t be mad at Ne-Yo for adding new tools to his box
Ne-Yo’s in the unenviable position of serving two masters, speaking to his core R&B audience and continuing to cater to his pop base. Non-Fiction tries to provide a little for everyone.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
First, one thing’s immediately sure — Ne-Yo still has the R&B game on lock. “Integrity” is a fantastic morality play for the prototypical “good girl,” sort of like an offshoot of his earlier hit, “Miss Independent.” Ne-Yo’s soaring falsetto is the perfect vessel to deliver the message. “Congratulations” tells another great story: Ne-Yo tips his hat to his ex when she finally finds love elsewhere. He’s regretful but not bitter. That type of maturity is hard to find these days.
“Congratulations” may have been a lesson for the guys, but “Make It Easy” speaks to the ladies, honoring a girl who removes stress from his life, instead of adding to it: “When the drama comes she becomes security,” he says. See ladies, that’s all we want.
Ne-Yo has no problem catering to the radio as well, as singles “Money Can’t Buy” and “She Knows” have already attested to. “One More” is a great mix of radio friendly sounds and solid songwriting: Instead of cliche pick-up lines at the bar, he offers a lady drink because “I don’t know where you been, or what you been through” but he’s willing to comfort her.
He’s also trying to get her drunk, but at least he’s not obvious about it.
Oh and don’t worry, there’s plenty of those headache-inducing EDM tracks too. “Who’s Taking You Home” and “Time of Our Lives” aren’t bad per se, they just follow the same old formula that’s been rehashed over and over again — complete with Pitbull rapping about the SAME OL INCOMPREHENSIBLE STUFF on the latter. I prefer “Coming With You” — its early-80s leanings help it stand out from the boring club crowd.
The biggest problem with Non-Fiction is that Ne-Yo spreads himself too thin trying to make everyone happy. He tries to cater to the radio crowd, R&B fans, pop fans — I mean, the album’s deluxe edition has TWENTY-ONE songs. It’s way too much, especially when there is so much filler, like the awkward Holy Ghost metaphors in “Religious” and the downright laughable “Story Time,” where Ne-Yo begs his girl for a threesome to the tune of a bedtime story. It’s too cute for its own good.
Don’t misunderstand me, Non-Fiction is a solid album with some really great tracks. It’s just the glut of filler than drag it down a notch. R&B fans will find something to love here. So will pop fans. And if you like Ratchet&B, you’ll have fun too. With a tighter focus, though, Ne-You could have brought those worlds together more seamlessly.
Best tracks: “Congratulations,” “One More,” “Money Can’t Buy”
3.5 stars out of 5