's third album, 2008's Year of the Gentleman
, was a solid but slightly disappointing dance music album where the singer steered more into the dance music portion of the dance-pop-R&B lane he's straddled throughout his career. But on his fourth release, Libra Scale
, released in the U.S. on Nov. 23, 2010, he moves away from the cold, overly synthesized Euro-pop of Year of the Gentleman
and returns to making warmly romantic and very catchy songs that have strong pop elements but are still solidly in the R&B category.
At His Finest
With Libra Scale
manages to both branch out and return to basics at the same time. The way he branches out is via storytelling; Libra Scale
is a concept album based on a fictional story about the relationship between a garbage collector-turned-superhero named Jerome, and Pretti Sinclair, the woman Jerome falls in love with. But although the narrative runs throughout the album, it's not necessary to know anything about the storyline to appreciate the songs. Although all the tracks combine to form pieces of a musical puzzle, each track can also be enjoyed separately from the rest. Songs like the seductive "Know Your Name" and the sexy "Telekinesis" are brilliantly catchy and showcase Ne-Yo at his finest.
And his ambitious narrative is coupled with a return-to-basics approach when it comes to his music. Gone for the most part is the heavy synthesizers that characterized Year of the Gentleman, replaced with warmer, more humanistic sounds, most notably the handclaps and harmonizing on "Crazy Love," a song equating romance with mental instability: "They say love and insanity are somewhat related in the way that they make us act/But baby girl the love between you and me is truly the greatest, though sometimes we hate it/You're my crazy love," he sings. The song, which features the album's only guest appearance, by the rapper Fabolous, is a butter-smooth ode to how complicated relationships can be.
© Def Jam.
has only 10 tracks, which is fewer than your typical contemporary R&B or pop album, but at 41 minutes in length, it's still a deeply satisfying album. It's built like a musical brick house; solid from top to bottom. Practically each song is strong enough to be released as a single. At the time of it's release, three tracks had already been released to American radio - "Beautiful Monster," "Champagne Life,"
and "One in a Million" - and it's almost a certainty that at least a couple more singles will follow in the months after the album drops. Of the initial three singles, "Champagne Life," an ode to living the good life, or "where trouble is a bubble in a champagne glass," as Ne-Yo puts it in the song, is maybe the strongest. And not only is the romantic "One in a Million" just as catchy, three-fourths of the album is just as good.
The only time "Libra Scale" falls off quality-wise - and then only slightly - is on the final couple of songs, particularly the album's poorly-chosen first single, "Beautiful Monster," which stylistically echoes the Euro-pop of Year of the Gentleman. The final track, "What Have I Done" is also not as strong as the album's other material, but this is mainly because it's a melancholy track that wraps up the (tragic) ending of the storyline. But other than those couple of bumps in the road, Libra Scale is a brilliant concept album that's easily one of the best releases of 2010 and might be Ne-Yo's best effort since his 2006 debut album.