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Ne-Yo - 'Closer'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:43 UK time, Saturday, 21 June 2008

NeyoNe-Yo makes smooth, classy, grown-up R&B. Where Chris Brown and Rihanna do teenage angst and Usher gets all sweaty in public, Ne-Yo does those instantly-recognisable (the more uncharitable part of me wants to say that this is because they all have the same tune) piano ballads. Extraodinary, then, that this new single is inspired by bassline, apparently; the consistently ace genre that's brought us T2 and Jodie's 'Heartbroken' and H2O and Platnum's 'What's It Gonna Be,' amongst others, both of which surely qualify as extremely teenage.

Well, alright, I might be overinterpreting here but I did catch him saying something about it being based on the British dance'n'b style whilst flicking through my Freeview box a few days ago and that'd certainly seem to point towards bassline. In any case, it's certainly dancier than his other singles and it's refreshing to hear a US R&B type being inspired by British styles, rather than the predictable opposite transferral of ideas.

Dancier though 'Closer' may be, if you're envisioning vworp, vwwworp bass and skittery bloops and bleeps then you'd be disappointed here. Although there is a bassline, at least occasionally and some hacking guitar that accompanies it, the majority of it is fairly gentle and acoustic still, with a fairly standard r'n'b beat. The vocals also don't differ too dramatically from Ne-Yo's previous releases; mournful, half-balladic murmured longing. Although he's under her spell, this isn't a happy love song, there's something a little tragic about proceedings as though this is all doomed from the offset and Ne-Yo's just a moth battering himself on a particularly wonderful lightbulb.

Terrible metaphors thought up at 3am during a heatwave aside, 'Closer' definitely does fit into the 'dancefloor tearjerkers' category*, for some reason, despite nothing being particularly sad in the lyrics. The pulse of the song, combined with the dichotomy between the shiny, sexy synths and Ne-Yo's mournful singing means it maintains the tragic air of most of his work. He's really ace at writing epicly heartbroken masterpieces, which translates rather strangely here.

Not unpleasantly, though, I ought to emphasise; rather, it gives the song a few new levels that it wouldn't have with any other singer. If Chris Brown (who is, I might add, brilliant in his own way) tried to do 'Closer,' it might well have been a total album-track, rather than a rather ace single. The production, although more than competent, is just that bit too neat to make the song interesting if Ne-Yo wasn't injecting his brand of longing into it, which fights with the polished veneer of the song and makes it much more interesting than its constituent parts would be if he'#d given it to another singer.

Equally, there's no way the song could handle any dramatic beefing up of its dance elements around his voice; someone like Rihanna can belt out a stormer over a strong bassline but Ne-Yo would just sound lost (although if you'd like to imagine what would've happened if 'Closer really had been bassline, I like this remix a whole lot) and out-of place; his strengths vically are his smoothness and the pleasantness of his voice, rather than any ability to be a bit shouty. Here, Ne-Yo's distinctiveness isn't lost in the translation from piano-led ballad to dancier ballad and that has to count as something of a masterstroke, propelling the song rapidly into the upper echelons of my favourite tracks of the year so far.

Five starsDownload: Out now
CD Released: June 23rd
http://www.defjam.com
www.myspace.com/neyo

(Hazel Robinson)

*Other things in this category: 'Teardrops' by Womack and Womack, 'Never Gonna Dance Again' by the Sugababes and err, some other songs I'm sure.

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