[23 November 2010]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
In Ne-Yo’s latest video for “One in a Million”, the singer begs and pleads with a woman who is made out to be his object of affection by singing sultry words (“You’re so one in a million / You are / Baby you’re the best I ever had” is a chorus that would make any female skip a breath) and by displaying dance moves smoother than a Caramello candy bar; and performing out of this world tricks (at one point, he somehow floats a rose through the air, landing it in front of her face). It’s cute, really. And even though she ultimately runs to a cab after she watches him dance with another woman, you can’t help but root for the R&B crooner, even if he is stepping out on this proposed fed-up female.
The entire sequence is a bit indicative of Ne-Yo’s career, actually. If you fancy yourself a contemporary pop/R&B fan on any level, you absolutely must root for him. Why? That’s almost impossible to answer, actually. Is it the sexiness he works so seamlessly into each and every track he has lent his voice to? It could be. Is it the God-given knack for a pop sensibility that runs as an undercurrent through most every song you find? That could be, too. Or is it that wrinkle-free voice that almost seems unnatural at times because laying it on top of a brilliant groove can sound so close to perfection, any listener can subconsciously make grand comparisons that may or may not be warranted? That’s possible, as well.
Whatever it is, the reasons simply don’t matter when it comes to the Las Vegas native’s latest effort, Libra Scale. Because, as is the case with most successful artists, what matters most is the end product. And what the end product here is yet another magnificent release by an artist who has seemingly made it impossible for himself to fail. Album after album. Hit after hit. This guy may have had the most impressive career of any male R&B singer over the last five years, all while somehow still managing to fly under the radar of superstar status.
The fun begins with the album’s first track—and quite possibly its best—the “so good, it needs to be sent to radio now”, future hit “Champagne Life”. The antagonistic backbeat supplies the perfect tone to a song that is sure to be blasted in a zillion clubs at one point throughout the night of December 31. Maybe the most fun Ne-Yo has ever sounded, it’s literally impossible to not clap with the man after he commands any potential listener to put his or her drink down to do so at the four-minute mark. As if that’s not enough, the sugary falsetto hook he provides at the end of each chorus promises never to leave your head, even if you asked it politely.
“Makin’ a Movie” and the aforementioned “One in a Million” are two standout tracks that both center around the singer courting a woman in one way or another, the latter with a bit more assertiveness, suggesting that “once he yells cut”, him and his muse will exit whatever place they happen to be. And though the latter eventually opens up into a sweet sentiment, it’s not without a quick, 10-second rap that demands attention and displays such an attitude that let’s you know exactly how confident the man is in both his ability to sing and pick up whatever female it is he may be speaking to.
The only real slip-up on Libra Scale is when Ne-Yo moves just a little too far away from the R&B side and a little too far into the pop world. The kind-of-old “Beautiful Monster” tries desperately hard to incorporate all the elements of today’s latest pop music fad—synthesizers, epic effects and a beat stolen from the latest rave—and unfortunately comes up feeling flat and over-produced. Having a shot at the latest trend seems too low-brow for an artist who could easily be setting trends himself, especially when he decides to put his mind to it.
But even that low point isn’t enough to taint another solid effort from a singer who doesn’t really need trends, fads, collaborators or chart-topping hits anymore to prove that he belongs at the top of today’s R&B world. And with Libra Scale, Ne-Yo proves yet again that being at the top is exactly where he belongs.