I can’t believe I get a second chance to write about Ashanti Syndrome in just a few weeks, although this time I’m not making the somewhat obvious Nelly connection. No, this time the latest victim of Ashanti Syndrome – a rare disease that causes superstar artists to inexplicably become less popular although they’re essentially making the same music everyone so recently loved – is Ne-Yo. The last time we were here, for his third album Year of the Gentlemen, I was proclaiming him the new King of R&B. 2010, however, finds Mr. Yo in somewhat …
DJBooth Album Review
(What’s that? There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for Ne-Yo’s suddenly subpar performance? Def Jam devoted 90% of their publicity to Rihanna and Kanye, leaving Ne-Yo to largely fend for himself? Plus Libra Scale is doing well on the album charts? Shut up, you’re ruining my theory.)
I feel obligated to mention that Libra Scale is technically a concept album. It was originally intended to be a movie that Ne-Yo wrote the script for, only the movie never materialized, leaving us with a soundtrack that tells the tale of three men offered fame and riches if they agree to never fall in love…or something. The truth is, I have no idea what the storyline is, and neither will you. It also doesn’t really matter. Although devoid of a mega-hit, Libra Scale is as entertaining and high quality as any of Ne-Yo’s previous albums.
That fame and riches storyline does, however, help explain why the first half of the album is largely concerned only with living the Champagne Life. A song that finds Ne-Yo riding the pop/r&b line with his trademark skill, Champagne Life is every bit as bubbly as its namesake, a record meant to be enjoyed, not consumed. That same luxurious vibe largely pervades the album, even when the theme is Ne-Yo getting his Kim Kardashian on with a certain female on Make a Movie, a lightly bouncing cut that’s not nearly as steamy as its title may suggest (he’s talking more about life imitating art than a sex tape). That high class attitude even comes up on the album’s true baby maker, Telekinesis, a softly banging jam that will undoubtedly have lovers reaching for wine, candles and their dictionary (telekinesis = moving objects with your mind). If Ne-Yo did indeed intend to turn Libra Scale into a movie it would have clearly been a high-budget affair. There’s no room for anything but the finest here.
As we know from every movie story arc, the good times can only last so long, and sure enough the second half of Libra Scale begins to subtly take on a more emotional, often regret-filled feel. One in a Million would be the perfect transition scene then, an uptempo, shining love song that contains a foreshadow of loss and pain. That pain becomes far more overt by the time the album nears completion, first on the deceptive Beautiful Monster – although its beat sounds like a club party, Ne-Yo’s lyrics and singing are far darker – and then on What Have I Done, a minimalist song that reveals both Michael Jackson’s influence on his work and reminds us of the almost surprising amount of emotion he can convey while still keeping his voice in the pop sphere. It’s an exceedingly rare combination of skills that makes Ne-Yo such an extraordinarily rare artist.
So why has Libra Scale so far failed to have the same cultural and musical impact as its predecessors? Frankly, I don’t know. The songwriting is as good as ever, the production is as good as ever and Ne-Yo’s voice is, if not at his peak, certainly not noticeably any worse than its ever been. While I like to come up with what I hope are at least somewhat clever descriptions of the musical phenomenon that surround us everyday, the truth is I’ve got nothing here. I don’t know why Libra Scale hasn’t seemed to enrapture America like his previous work, but I do know that talent like his doesn’t fade. Just wait – something tells me Ne-Yo will be back on top soon enough. If anyone can cure Ashanti Syndrome, it’s him.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 12/8/10
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"All Because of You" (2007)
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