Ne-Yo: Libra Scale

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Posted November 27, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Dreamy R&B with modern age comic book concept puts Ne-Yo’s new album somewhere in Michael Jackson-inspired universe

Michael Jackson has had a major impact on so many in today’s pop biz, from poptart Justin Bieber to R&B mainstay/pop phenom Usher, but there’s probably not many in the R&B world that gives MJ as much adulation in their studio experiments as Ne-Yo. His dreamy soul, his newly-discovered love for concept albums and stage presence usually laced with the trademark black hat-and-suit, gives him an advantage. He was inches away from making that dream collaboration with the King of Pop, but his obligation to the “This Is It” and then his untimely death pushed Ne-Yo back to the drawing board; sparking up the flame for a befitting tribute.

The urban R&B balladeer, who has no problem playing sprinkling on Top 40 appeal, isn’t a total stranger to piecing together MJ-inspired productions. The Year of the Gentleman – buoyed by the success of “Miss Independent” and the upbeat club-tinged jam “Closer,” was a concept album celebrating the Rat Pack legacy, but was slightly subdued in comparison to MJ’s more extravagant and sophisticated creations. On Ne-Yo’s latest album, Libra Scale, the concept album format is extended with an artsy anime comicbook storyline chronicling Ne-Yo’s character Jerome, segueing from the last album’s “gentleman” episode into a transportable tale about the big city’s darkest knight in shining armor. After getting tipsy on the smooth “Human Nature”-embellished “Champagne Life,” he finally sees the girl of his wildest dreams and even with his newly-inherited powers, he still has to muster up enough courage to ask for her name on the romantic ballad “Know Your Name.” Using a familiar setup from the Thom Bell-Linda Creed handbook, the song sashays across euphoric strings and gleaming and slightly muted horns with Barry White finesse. Ballads have always been Ne-Yo’s strongest suit, especially when worn on hitmakers like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Chrisette Michele. And he proves that the more on Libra Scale. The steamy Quiet Storm tune “Telekinesis” is Ne-Yo’s winning hand as he uses his mind-reading abilities to satisfy his sexual ambitions: “Girl have you ever had someone take the time/To sex your body but also sex your mind…Baby let me touch you without touching you.” But love becomes challenging, and down right uninterruptible, as “Crazy Love” enters the fold and then escalates into freaky, Rick James territory (“Cause I Said So”). Usually, Ne-Yo’s lover profile looks squeaky clean, but he bends the rules with the mild, uptempo “Cause I Said So;” using tempting lyrics (“Do it ‘cause you want to it/You want to ‘cause I said so”) on top of pop-funk melodies and MJ-sounding “Oh nos.” Where Ne-Yo makes the terrible mistake of reinventing himself into a Michael clone is how he injects Lady Gaga techno into Donna Summer-esque disco on “Beautiful Monster.” On top of that, the strange lyricalness of putting “beautiful” next to “monster” bedazzles the average guy.

Libra Scale, as elaborate as and sophisticated as it seems, is still a miniature version of Michael’s big top experiments. It’s not all his fault, he originally planned for a full-length music video containing all the tracks from his album, on the precipice of Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’ or MJ’s ‘Moonwalker’, but his label downsized the visual concept down to a few eight-minute videos. A comic book was planned to also showcase a different visualization of Ne-Yo’s script, but still hasn’t seen the light of day. Maybe Def Jam cheated him on his storytelling, but Libra Scale doesn’t really need a Justice League backdrop to edify all the details. And he’s lucky for that. Although the album comes up short in its brevity (only ten songs on board) and for falling short of creative expectations, it’s still an attractive collection in Ne-Yo’s library – and probably the most balanced of his four releases.

 J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 22 November 2010
  • Label: Def Jam
  • Producers: Stargate, D. DoRohn Gough,  Ryan Leslie, Syience, Rochad Holiday, Sandy Vee, Ne-Yo
  • Track Favs: Know Your Name, Champagne Life, Cause I Said So, Telekinesis

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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