Ne-Yo is so much of a gentleman that it's almost sickening. So courteous that it's corny. He's in a field of nasty singers and he's the old, randy R&B dude who parties responsibly. He still refers to you as a lady. He has an album titled Year of the Gentleman (still my favorite Ne-Yo album), and always looks like he's fresh out of a Harlem Renaissance painting with that silly fedora. Dude has a song called "Integrity" on his new album, Non-Fiction and it's old, classy, reliable Ne-Yo, with so much potential to bore you if he wasn't so good. It's the rom-com you can't help re-watching.
As offensive as Trey Songz or August Alsina get in their lyrics, their approach is suave and flirty enough to hook you. That's why rough R&B is so tempting. It's easy to feel like Ne-Yo's over-doing it with all the pleasantries. But I am not complaining. I mostly prefer my R&B as soulful, complicated relationship material from guys like Miguel and Ne-Yo who are generous with their compliments and make you feel like falling in love. The loyal ones, so to speak. We get enough of the egos. Compared to blanket club records (which are fine when I want them), Ne-Yo's songs are all about how life and relationships really work (although Miguel is by far more hot and adventurous).
Ne-Yo, nice guy, is turned on by a woman with high standards who drinks sparingly and consistently curves him. He pursues her anyway because "she was more than just a booty in a skirt" ("Integrity"). He offers her afterwork booze and morning sex: "Just wanna make sure you start your day properly" ("Good Morning"). On "Religious," he sings, "I love being with you 'cause you're easily worth adoring." The actual songs are less syrupy than those lyrics make it seem, and luckily the subjects of Ne-Yo's songs aren't one-dimensional. He's all for supporting working women while also getting caught up with bad girls. In "One More," he sings, "You work hard/ But you don't get what you're worth." That's when I literally screamed out, "I love you, Ne-Yo!" Before T.I. ruined the moment, talking 'bout "I don't just be lickin' on everybody kitten."
Ne-Yo's songwriting has kept him relevant and can still capture detailed experiences and moods (a la the mirror-sex song on his first album, In My Own Words). Year of the Gentleman made me appreciate his vocals too, specifically how he could eerily mimic Michael Jackson (on here, "Coming With You," a smooth dance record). Ne-Yo completely won me over, before the dance world swallowed him up. He's gotten better at adding flavor to those numbing synth records, which in this case are "Who's Taking You Home," "Coming With You" and "Time of Our Lives" with Pitbull (my New Year's Eve anthem). They're the songs that, while catchy, throw off the flow of his later albums. They still don't quite compare to what he used to be. Non-Fiction doesn't exactly KNOCK. It's good enough to rock out to on Spotify, though; just skip the radio panders like "Money Can't Buy" and "She Knows." Again, some of it is like, "I get it, I'm amazing." But whatever, it sounds good and plus, I am.
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