2 and ½ stars
Ne-Yo made mad money writing massive pop hits for artists like Beyonce, Pitbull, Mario and Jennifer Hudson. His solo career has been more of a hit and miss affair, however. His greatest strength is a gorgeous voice that can move with agility from well-rounded full voice into breathy, soul-drenched falsetto.
The guy sings beautifully. However, crafting songs that move with melodic intention does not seem to be his strong-suit. His melodies meander. If not for the strength of the singing, they would be largely forgettable.
“Non-Fiction” is album No. 6 for the singer, and it certainly has its moments of sultry and successful neo-soul. “Integrity,” a spacey blend of electro-pop and stoner-soul, sounds like Terence Trent D’arby covering something from Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience,” and if it never really goes anywhere, it at least floats along pleasantly. “One More” is a Michael Jackson-informed ballad, and again, the singing is virtuosic, if cloyingly overproduced. (Ne-Yo does not need Auto-Tune.) T.I. shows up to offer a sleepy rap that doesn’t ruin the song, but doesn’t help it either.
In fact, whenever guests show up on “Non-Fiction” – Pitbull for the forgettable “Time of Our Lives,” Schoolboy Q during opener “Run,” Jeezy for the somewhat cluttered “Money Can’t Buy” – the listener can’t help but wish they had simply stayed home.
The simple pleasures of listening to Ne-Yo sing are really the only pleasures “Non-Fiction” has to offer. Certainly, the lyrics – which seem to be, perhaps understandably, obsessed with how a young, attractive and sexually adventurous young pop star can resist the charms of the many good looking women on offer – are nothing special most of the time, and embarrassingly cliché-ridden the rest.
Ne-Yo certainly has a great album in him somewhere. I’d love to hear him paired with the Roots, a la John Legend, or in the more adventurous neo-soul realm in which D’Angelo is king. Instead, he hedges his bets, throwing incongruous guest raps into tunes where more attention to melodies and hooks would have served him better.
– Jeff Miers