Rating: 3/5 stars
Pros: Great song-writing: almost every song is vividly written with a clear melody.
Cons: Feels like a collection of cover songs -- very little of Ne-Yo is ever revealed.
Bottom Line: Very well-done and by-the-book modern R&B album.
Ne-Yo's new album Year of the Gentleman opens with a burst of energy. An unnamed girl catches his eye on two up-tempo club songs, one of which is stand-out single "Closer."
Then on "Single" he reveals her identity -- she's every single woman listening to his music. He comforts them: "You don't got to be alone, I'll be your boyfriend / I'll be your boyfriend until the song goes out." Like any good romantic comedy, Year of the Gentleman is about feminine wish-fulfillment.
So over the next nine melodramatic and earnest ballads, Ne-Yo plays the part of the apologietc boyfriend. He's a stand in for every man whose wronged the listener, every man who made "her come by herself tonight, because he wouldn't pick up the phone."
He doesn't care that she's been cheating on him ("Lie to Me") or that she's marrying someone else ("Fade Into the Background"). He misses "her funny little laugh or the way you smile or the way we kissed."
So what has done to deserve this self-inflicted misery? The best answer he comes up with is not helping around the house on "Why Does She Stay". But that's not really the point. He's an idealized creature, and actually admitting to any real wrong would ruin the illusion.
He wrote hits for artists like Beyonce and Rihanna before he became a star himself. His strengths as a songwriter are no surprise -- each song is vividly written with a clear melody. But as a performer he never stretches himself vocally, sticking to the same gentle baritone throughout.
As a professional songwriter, he is so used to writing in the voice of another singer that even when he writes for himself, there is still a layer of artifice. "Year of the Gentleman" doesn't pretend otherwise. It's a good act, but after the song ends, we don't know if any of it is real.