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Album review: Ne-Yo's 'Libra Scale'

November 22, 2010 |  5:28 pm

Neyo There’s one inherent problem with Ne-Yo’s “Libra Scale,” and it’s not lack of vision. Always suave, smooth and something of a debonair, Ne-Yo goes high concept for his fourth album, crafting a 10-song cycle in which the quest for love is turned into a battle of good and evil. Listeners are teased a story of superheroes and city-destroying monsters, but even when Ne-Yo dreams big, his fantasies are charmingly modest. A “definition of a good time,” he sings on album-opener “Champagne Life,” is a “nice meal and good wine.”

The fantasy ambitions are almost entirely left with the liner notes, as once the album opens with digital twinkles, it’s clear Ne-Yo is staying in his well-established universe. His is a world where even the most tormented love songs are delivered with some of the gentlest vocals in modern R&B, and Michael Jackson-influenced ballads are the national anthem. The steady, hand-driven percussion of “Telekensis” is lost in old-school synthesizers, and the connection Ne-Yo hopes for is less physical than intellectual. A dash of ‘70s funk is used to great effect in “Crazy Love,” where guitar inflections meld into orchestral flourishes, and love is the harbinger of little more than self-doubt.

Ne-Yo’s perspective can be refreshingly direct. “I’m gonna get on your damn nerves, and you’re gonna make me mad,” he sings on “Genuine Only,” a lyrical approach that’s more grown-up than smooth criminal.

Yet when Ne-Yo turns to hitmakers StarGate for “Beautiful Monster,” the thumping club-groove and rave effects drench Ne-Yo in disco-electronics that don’t play to his strengths. Album closer “What Have I Done” could’ve been a thing of beauty. Instead, it’s a slave to the theme, and the tears are lost in the Space Mountain-like whooshes. Ultimately, it’s admirable that Ne-Yo felt the need to take listeners on an out-of-this-world ride, but he’s at his best when sticking closer to home.

--Todd Martens

“Libra Scale”
Island Def-Jam
Two and a half stars (Out of four)