Ne-Yo Aims For A Place In Pop’s Royalty

By: Maura / September 11, 2008

TITLE: Year Of The Gentleman
WEB DEBUT: Sept. 10, 2008
RELEASE DATE: Sept. 16, 2008

ONE TWO FEW-LISTENS VERDICT: The songs that teased Ne-Yo’s Year Of The Gentleman gave the hint that the singer/songwriter would aim for a more mature pop sound on this album. And Year as a whole would seem to bear this out; even “Single,” which has been reconfigured from a New Kids On The Block/Ne-Yo collaboration into a Ne-Yo-only slice of radio R & B, sounds like it makes sense here, thanks to it flowing much better with the grating “if you ain’t got no money” bits stripped from it. (Although why Donnie Wahlberg’s rap remains on this version is something of a mystery.)

What’s most striking to me on Gentleman is Ne-Yo’s vocal channeling of Michael Jackson. On his blog he says that the lighter-than-air “Nobody” is his Off The Wall tribute, and the homage is definitely spot-on–but there were more than a few instances on the album where I had to double-check the news that’s dribbled out about the album to see if the former King Of Pop had lent his vocals to the album. “Part Of The List” and the over-the-top “Lie To Me” find Ne-Yo locked right in to MJ’s vocal mannerisms, particularly the latter, on which Ne-Yo’s repeated vocalizing of the word “desperately” sounds like it was cribbed directly from “Dirty Diana.” The music plays that part as well, having one foot in the current era and the other planted in the days when Michael Jackson had an iron grip on pop. Perhaps Ne-Yo should be the person who engineers Jackson’s comeback, if only because tracks in the vein of the breezy, radio-ready “So You Can Cry” would, in some alternate pop universe, be a much better fit for his voice than anything with Akon.

Gentleman isn’t a perfect album–like many full-lengths in the CD era, it could be improved by cutting three songs or so, including the over-the-top album closer “Stop This World”–but it’s compulsively listenable, with the singer providing his well-dressed shoulder to ladies of the world, whether they need to cry on it or stand on it.