Ne-Yo‘s new album R.E.D. (not to be confused with Taylor Swift‘s recent Red!) is garnering a lot of buzz, and with good reason: It earned the R&B singer-songwriter his first Top 10 hit since 2008 with the Sia-penned single “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself),” signifying a return to form for the crooner. But has Ne-Yo really managed to deliver a cohesive album in the fractured R&B marketplace? The critics seem mostly sure, giving R.E.D. largely positive reviews. (Think in the three-star range.)
As an in-demand songwriter and the vice president of A&R at Motown Records, Ne-Yo knows his way around a pop tune — but still, reviewers felt that the album includes some exceptional moments that add up to create a not-totally-exceptional product. Read on for a round-up of reviews.
:: The Guardian dug Ne-Yo’s sound, but stopped short of effusive praise: “After the middling performance of his 2010 concept album, Libra Scale, R.E.D. (Realizing Every Dream) reverts to what Ne-Yo does best: lush soul that eloquently bares his feelings about love, loss and the downside of fame. All three are addressed on the opener, ‘Cracks in Mr Perfect,’ which twangs with self-disgust: ‘After this song you’re gonna love me for my honesty or you’re gonna hate me … 20k on champagne in the club, then 20k more just because, that’s 40k in just three hours.’ He’s not boasting, he’s recoiling at his lack of self-control.”
:: The Washington Post felt that the record was sometimes strong but ultimately inconsistent: “Clearly, Ne-Yo is an extremely gifted and versatile songwriter. (Beyonce and Rihanna are just two of the stars he has penned hits for.) He is so great at crafting music and spotting talent that he was named vice president of A&R at Motown Records this year. So, unsurprisingly, R.E.D. contains some great music, but at times it seems like a clumsy attempt to cram all of Ne-Yo’s gifts into one package…They are all great pieces, but they add up to a somewhat disjointed whole. Ne-Yo can do it all, but it’s not necessarily a good thing to hear it all at once.
:: The Boston Globe thought the album effectively integrated dance influences into the R&B texture: “The sweet singing soulman’s fifth disc updates his sound as he adds more dance-oriented pop to augment his superbly arranged and executed love songs. Ne-Yo has specialized in telling three-minute stories that cut deeper than most disposable contemporary R&B, and it continues here. R.E.D. (Realizing Every Dream) is smart, sophisticated, and built around songs.”
:: Entertainment Weekly liked the album, too, highlighting the Tim McGraw collaboration for its effortless style: “His easy charms work even (or especially) when he’s singing about his own shortcomings; the rawer lyrics showcase a man who’s maturing without making a fuss about it. Musically, R.E.D. leans mostly on easy soul-pop grooves, but ‘She Is,’ a country-tinged collab with Tim McGraw, serves him well. It’s all so smooth and casual, you’ll think he recorded in his (no doubt, silk) pajamas.”
:: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought R.E.D. united the two sides of Ne-Yo’s creative persona nicely: “There are two growing factions within Ne-Yo’s fan base: those who love the R&B singer’s new electro/dance pop-inspired sound and those who want the hit singer-songwriter to return to songs like the 2006 hit ‘So Sick.’ His new album R.E.D. aims to please both demographics. Lead single ‘Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)’ and ‘Be the One’ – both by production duo Stargate – are perfect examples of how Ne-Yo cleverly balances his dance-pop impulses with his buoyant, romantic songwriting.”
:: While Billboard gave the album a thorough track-by-track review, their overall impression was that Ne-Yo’s latest felt more authentically Ne-Yo than ever before: “The prolific singer-songwriter, who wrote over 150 tracks for the album, even dabbles in country with Tim McGraw duet ‘She Is’ and channels the Lennon-McCartney songbook on the bonus track ‘Alone With You’ dedicated to his daughter Maddie. Unlike new releases from Usher and Chris Brown, where the people-pleasing shifts from pop to dance to R&B felt a little arbitrary at times, Ne-Yo sounds right at home on all 13 of R.E.D.‘s tracks. Perhaps that’s because he led or shared songwriting duties on the majority of the album, all with a refreshing lack of Auto-Tune on the vocals to boot.”
:: Digital Spy mentioned the lyrics in the opening track as showing a different side of the singer, even if the final effect was disingenuous: “It’s one of many admissions on the five-minute confessional that will come as a surprise to his longtime supporters, given that the father-of-two has garnered a reputation as the teacher’s pet of R&B. In fact, it’s one of several numbers on the unfortunately-titled R.E.D (an acronym for ‘Realizing Every Dream’, honest) so startlingly honest that we’re not entirely sure if we actually believe him.”