Ne-Yo - Libra Scale (2010)

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    Like him or not, Ne-Yo and his Stargate-tweaked hits have earned him a strong presence in the R&B world. Since his ascension to the top as one of the genre's most trustworthy songwriters (writing for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chrisette Michele, Mario and others), the content on his solo entries have gotten stronger and more polished; easily making him more confident in his craft and likable amongst the masses. But, even with the chart-climbing success of "Closer,"  "So Sick," "Sexy Love" and "Miss Independent," Ne-yo  still hasn't managed to break away from the level of an average-R&B singer and crossing only around the perimeters of Usher-esque pop-gloss celebrity or Luther-like fanfare. Finally, Ne-Yo wants to challenge that perception.

    On Libra Scale, the singer's fourth studio album, Ne-Yo returns to the concept album paradigm. After invigorating Rat Pack consciousness on Year of the Gentlemen, he takes the creative "superhero" ingredients of Janelle Monáe and Ciara, and whips up an epic-proportionate adventure full of lavish ballads, sophisticated R&B and Michael Jackson-inspired pop. At first listen, the songs are nice, even atmospheric, but doesn't allure instantaneously as originally planned. Part of the problem lies in the album sequencing. "Champagne Life" uses "Human Nature" sexiness to tickle the ear, but would have worked better if it wasn't first in line in the song selection. The same applies to "Cause I Said So;" which whips up a charming chorus and "Billie Jean" swagger, but appears towards the back of the album.

    However, Libra Scale, after a few faithful trips, gets a better listener reception. "Know Your Name" sweetly injects Thom Bell-styled strings into dreamy romance. "One In A Million" weaves silky soul into a pop-friendly hook and "Telekinesis" turns the temperature up with intelligent foreplay; past the conventions of most modern-day adult R&B offerings: "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."

    Without going knee-deep into Michael Jackson's imagination, Ne-Yo does a fine job using MJ as an archetype, to help challenge his own abilities, using high-end concepts and systematic, interwoven songs. As the album paces onward, our super friend faces an uphill battle over balance, fighting to choose love over the three temptations: money, power and fame. But, what troubles Libra Scale, like most of Ne-Yo's previous works, is the overindulgence of ballads and his lackluster approach to the up-tempo tracks. When he cranks up the volume and bass on the Euro-disco, Stargate-produced "Beautiful Monster," things sound awfully forced. It's as if our hero used Lady Gaga's sonic blasts on Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money." He ends up using his "telekinetic powers" to rewrite creepy definitions of familiar descriptions: "You're a knife, sharp and deadly/And, it's me that you cut into/But, I don't mind/She's a beautiful monster/But, I don't mind."

    While Ne-Yo amps up his ambitions here, it's not quite the sequel to Thriller Ne-Yo may have wanted. And, then there's the obvious brevity of the album; barely clocking in at forty minutes. Certainly, Ne-Yo wanted the project to be more than what the powers-that-be limited it to being. The original plan was to release a full-length concept film in the style of Michael Jackson's ‘Moonwalker' alongside the soundtrack and a Marvel Comics-supported companion comic book. It's the stuff that Michael Jackson imagined, and even succeeded at doing. Ne-Yo was slightly more ways than one. Recommended

    By J Matthew Cobb

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