Before he broke out as an R&B crooner, a dandified celebrity in his own right, Las Vegas product Ne-Yo wrote hits for the Beyoncés and Whitneys and Célines of the world. While penning vapid pop tracks might not seem like an impressive skill, it’s not every man who can speak to women so effectively. One would expect, then, such tenderness to break through on his third album, Year of the Gentleman.
Unfortunately, he more often comes across like that well-dressed guy at the party who seems to be spouting pick-up lines he read in GQ (a guilty pleasure until he becomes a repetitive bore). Take a track like “Nobody,” which manages to be doubly derivative: The tempo, lyrics (“Can’t nobody strut like her/Can’t nobody touch her”) and mix add up to something like Usher doing his best Michael Jackson impression.
- From the archives
- Ne-Yo picks Pure for debut of single from new album (9/23/08)
- On the brink (2/23/08)
- Beyond the Weekly
- Ne-Yo on Billboard.com
But Usher and MJ take risks. The former drops personal, revealing tidbits with regularity; the latter, in his prime, redefined pop music on his own terms. Ne-Yo, meanwhile, mostly delivers standard, radio-format R&B, with Gentleman bouncing between sugary odes to wonderful ladies (“Why Does She Stay”) and laments to loves lost (“Fade Into the Background”).
The fairly flawless production makes the album an easy listen, but it only shines when it feels like Ne-Yo is telling you something you don’t necessarily want to hear. “I’ll be your boyfriend until the song goes off,” is the refrain on “Single,” which features New Kids on the Block and feels quite honest. No promises, no bullshit, just temporary comfort. That’s kind of what the CD is like. It’s not especially substantial, but if you’re willing to settle for its fleeting thrills, you won’t be disappointed.