Good Man (to be released June 8, 2018)
True story: About a year ago this time, Ne-Yo dropped “Earn Ur Love,” a single that harkened back to his R&B roots and deviated from the divisive pop sound that brought him major mainstream success but alienated many hardcore soul fans.
One of our readers excitedly hit me up on Twitter gushing about the new song and asked me if this was a sign that Ne-Yo was returning to the sound that made him R&B’s premier voice in the mid-00s.
But y’all know me, I’m a journalist, skepticism seeps from my pores.
I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something to the effect of: “This is a good track, but it’s way too early to say that Ne-Yo’s leaving that pop cash behind.”
Well, a few minutes later Shaffer Smith himself jumped in the convo, essentially saying, “Chill out and give me a chance.”
My reply, “Cool, we’ll hold you to it.”
Twelve months and a few more singles later, ladies and gentlemen, I can confirm that Good Man, Ne-Yo’s seventh studio album, has absolutely ZERO EDM tracks. There’s not a Pitbull feature to be found.
While I’ve gone on record many times to say that I don’t necessarily fault an artist for diving into new genres, I do understand why fans are often ruffled. In Ne-Yo’s case specifically, his rise circa 2006 signaled a new era for R&B, with him at the helm. And, coincidentally, it was right around the time he decided to explore other genres when R&B started to fall from mainstream grace.
So to fans who heralded Ne-Yo as R&B’s new champion, it looked like he deserted them at their moment of need.
It’s a bit unfair to Ne-Yo, no doubt. No one should be expected to throw an entire genre on their back. But I understand the frustration.
Besides, that’s the past. He’s back now. And lord knows we need him.
Good Man indeed feels closer to pre-Libra Scale Ne-Yo than any of his more previous projects, one that adheres pretty closely to R&B’s roots. But don’t expect a ton of sleepy slow jams. Good Man is a mostly upbeat affair.
“1 More Shot” rides the upbeat tropical wave that’s been the hallmark of radio hits for the past year or two, but there’s a lot more energy here than many of the more disposable tracks in the subgenre. The hand claps and guitar licks give “Nights Like These” an infectious groove, while “LA Nights” serves as another fun summertime track – this time as an ode to Cali. The vocal effects on the track are pretty unnecessary but don’t hurt the overall experience. “U Deserve” is Ne-Yo at his best, an “honest conversation” where he reminds a woman of her worth. It’s the type of track that helped him build an empire.
The first half of Good Man starts out extremely promising, but the energy starts to falter a bit midway through. Tracks like “Breathe” and “On Ur Mind” certainly have their pluses – the former with its stacked vocal intro and the latter featuring surprising chemistry with PARTYNEXTDOOR – but they lack the staying power of the earlier offerings.
Things pick back up in a big way during the final third of the album, starting with current single “Apology.” It’s classic Ne-Yo with a modern twist. Minimalistic production is all the rage but strong songwriting and heartfelt vocals make this a winner. There’s gonna be a bunch of brothers forwarding this track to their ladies when they screw up. Candice Boyd steals the show on “Ocean Sure” – her vocals absolutely soar. And, of course, the title track, which is currently burning up radio, finishes the album on a strong note, courtesy of a powerful D’Angelo sample and Ne-Yo’s stirring performance.
If you’re a Day One Ne-Yo fan, you’ll find Good Man is a solid listen filled with great songs from top to bottom – it’s just that middle section that’s in need of a trim. The reggae-tinged “Push Back,” the midtempo effort “Hotbox,” the well-written but unmemorable “Back Chapters,” they all just get lost in the shuffle.
But give Ne-Yo props for keeping his word. This is the sound y’all have been missing.
Best tracks: “Apology,” “U Deserve,” “Nights Like These”
3.5 stars out of 5