In this day and age, I buy albums thinking that there’s just as good of a chance that I’ll be disappointed in my purchase as there is that I’ll be pleased. It’s great to have artists like Ne-Yo who continue to strive to outdo themselves. I really didn’t catch on until after his first album In My Own Words. I knew the singles, but didn’t really get into him until his second album Because Of You (which I liked far more than Money Mike did). What I’ve learned that I enjoy about Ne-Yo is that he’s found a way to balance good lyricism that’s easy to sing along to with catchy hooks. A lot of times, in order to get on the radio, you have to give up the ability to actual write good songs. He’s been able to master both. And this album is his coming out party.

I’m a sucker for love songs.
It’s just who I am. I’d rather hear a killer ballad that touches me than almost any other kind of song. The Year Of The Gentlemen is right in my wheel house. If that isn’t your cup of tea, you might not like this album as much as I do. But you can’t deny his ability to emote honestly through his music. Unless Ne-Yo is just channeling certain feelings and writing stories, the guy’s heart was definitely broken. Many of the songs are about broken relationships and how much he’s screwed up and the regret that comes with it. Mad is a simple, yet effective piano ballad about the simplistic idiocy of most fights that couples have. Fade Into The Background has a bit of a funkier sound and only features a glimmer of piano, but is just a great narrative. The love of his life is getting married to another man and he’s at the wedding. And rather than fight for her, he’ll fade into the background.

She looks so good in that white dress
At the far end of the aisle
Standing where I should be standing
Some other man on his face there’s a smile
I just walked in sat down silent
I stood outside for awhile
Wondering why did I come here
Face it you messed up and now she’s with somebody else

I’ve gone through something similar, though not in the same way, so it reads a bit true to me, but it’s just the way he puts his regretful emotion into it that makes the song work. Lie To Me might be just a bit overly dramatic, but he gets at a very strong feeling that couples go through, and it’s sung from the male perspective. I don’t want to know what I know to be true/What I need you to do, tell me another lie.

He’s a pop genius.
I guess the word genius might be a little too much. But you have to give credit where credit is do. He’s been apart of so many hit singles over the last few years that you can’t listen to the radio today without hearing something he’s touched. But he still saved some of his best for his album. He didn’t give it all away.

The album opener and lead single Closer is Ne-Yo unlike we’ve heard him. It’s more club song than love song and features great Stargate production. You can tell it’s Stargate, but they take their signature sound to another level. Single is the same song featured on the New Kids On The Block album but he’s the only featured singer on this version. Sorry Joey Mac fans, this one’s all Ne-Yo. While it’s missing some of that New Kids charm, it features that same great harmonic sound. Nobody is his one ode to Michael Jackson on this album. He should’ve given it to Michael and it could’ve been a hit record. It features all of the crazy vocal sounds that MJ uses and he tries to sing it exactly like the man. He even uses an old MJ phrase as he sings, “Pretty mama,” in the same falsetto MJ does.

What’s different about this album from his previous two?
There’s a different vibe and confidence to his music. While every artist should strive to make that record that you can play all the way through without skipping, Ne-Yo succeeds at doing just that. It’s the one album that I’ve bought this year that I don’t have to skip through at all. He took a theme which was to show that guys can still put women on pedestals and do it in a classy way, and ran with it. It’s not weak to love your girl the right way. He’s not talking about how he’s going to sex his girl down. He’s talking about how proud he is of her for doing her own thing. Miss Independent should be included in the book of how to make meaningful songs that people can relate to. He might be one of the only guys to create a song based around the idea of a woman who walks like the boss and talks like the boss that doesn’t turn either the male or female audience off.

She got her own thing
That’s why I love her

(Anyone notice the ode to Boomerang at the beginning of the video? Or really, the theme of the video. Starring Gabrielle Union as Jacqueline Broyer …)

This guy speaks my language and if I were as talented as he, I’d have written these exact songs. My money is on Ne-Yo being one of the most respected artists of this generation. I hope next year is the year of the gentlemen too.

Photo by bionicgrrrl and shared via creative commons