In the R&B world, Ne-Yo is a truly talented jack-of-all-trades. The triple Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and dancer takes inspiration from his own life and even stories off social media for his first full-length since R.E.D. (Realizing Every Dream).
Run kicks off the album with a murky, heavy arrangement designed for some slow booty popping so hot that listeners may need a cold shower afterwards. Despite a decent, militant rap from Schoolboy Q, the questionable lyrics already begin (is ‘sex in the flesh?’ the best metaphor that can be thought of?). Next track Integrity mixes jittery tribal beats with more head scratchers like ‘booty in a skirt’ and some mood-killing ‘damn’s.
Reunions with past collaborators don’t really take off. Time Of Our Lives (with Pitbull) unfortunately proves not to be as infectious and convincing (nor as commercially successful) as Give Me Everything. Listeners wouldn’t spend their night dancing to this generic single with stale, cringe-worthy phrases like ‘work my ass off’, ‘good time’, ‘loose’, ‘fun’ etc. that they’ve heard countless times before. On Coming with You, Ne-Yo and Stargate [the duo behind brilliant pop gems like So Sick and Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)] try to compensate for a middling song with some interesting production choices. Hypnotic jungle beats recalling The Stone Roses’ Fools Gold manage to mesh quite well with Ne-Yo’s smooth harmonies and 1990s-esque ballsy brass.
Other joint works are a hit and miss. Ne-Yo brings the party mood with David Guetta on Who’s Taking You Home. Even though it’s a rehashed mashup of Let’s Go (his own duet with Calvin Harris) and Drake’s Take Care, the euphoric EDM vibes provide a fresh soundscape and marks a production highlight on the album. She Knows fails to emulate Katy Perry’s blockbuster Dark Horse by subjecting listeners to a basic fake brass riff that sounds like that god-awful post-chorus ‘breakdown’ on loop and bringing in Juicy J for another unmemorable rap. There is some improvement in the second halves of the choruses, before random children’s cries spoil the song beyond repair. The seductive, lush Money Can’t Buy nevertheless is bogged down by Jeezy’s slightly TMI contributions like ‘ghetto D’.
Although the attempts of Religious to put romance back into lovemaking come off as a bit repetitive, there are sexier times elsewhere. One More (with T.I.) however is a delectable soundtrack for unwinding after a long, hard day at work. Its intoxicating hooks (e.g. the recurring ‘let me get one more for the lady’ line) would go well with a spa, massage and more bedroom-focussed activities. There’s the classy audio erotica of Good Morning, with its discordant, suspended chords adding an almost psychedelic flair to the quivery synth strings and tropical trap beat.
If Ne-Yo didn’t state in interviews that he was taking stories off Twitter and Instagram, then Story Time’s ironic tale of a girl being pushed into having a threesome would have invited Blurred Lines-like backlash for sure. At least the protagonist in the song is revealed as a hypocrite when his female partner tries to invite another man into the bed. Ballerina finally closes the album on a stunningly beautiful note, with Ne-Yo’s evocative belting and country-esque harmonies in the bridge laying bare his true adoration for women.
The title of Ne-Yo’s sixth album is fitting, considering the origins of the inspirations behind the songs. He proves to be a somewhat uneven, yet still entertaining storyteller and listeners should look forward to more stories to come.