The gentleman turns heartbreaker on his fourth album.
Melissa Bradshaw 2010
Ne-Yo’s new album complicates the persona established on his last full length. With 2008’s Year of the Gentleman the singer/producer turned his talent for a saccharine, infectious soul ballad (see So Sick from his 2006 debut album) into making himself the most desirable man in the world. He loved independent women, would take you out when you got dumped, and stare at you on the dancefloor. The gentleman obviously pandered to, and won over, a massive female audience. Libra Scale takes the narcissism inherent in that stance, makes it the hero’s hubris, and raises him from perfect boyfriend to heartbreaker status.
Through a narrative developed in the series of videos for Beautiful Monster, Champagne Life and One in a Million, the album is thematically based on a choice between love and power. So Champagne Life’s cool RnB celebrates all the trappings of celebrity status, including an entourage of Miss Independents, One in a Million sees the hero falling in love, and Beautiful Monster is the embodiment of his downfall. Playful reference to Ne-Yo’s own career is complemented by obvious allusions. One in a Million’s chorus is a combination of Aaliyah and Drake (“Baby you’re so one in a million… You’re the best I ever had”), while its indisputably sexy rhythm is nicked straight from Truth Hurts’ Addictive. And Beautiful Monster is a pitched-down version of the trance hook on Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness, albeit with swing.
If a little dominated by this trio the rest of the album also develops the cool soul player theme nicely, with offers of mind sex and a considered approach in slick fusion. Ne-Yo was producing for Michael Jackson, and Cause I Said So and What Have I Done? are obviously influenced by the late star. But the last song also leaves the singer alone, regretting his own behaviour. If the references are obligatory for today’s star, they also signify pop status. Given the back catalogue of hits Ne-Yo has had a hand in, and recent statements he’s made about being unable to commit, you wonder how much of this is a very marketable persona and how much is the real person. And the plot thickens.