For too long the citizens of this great country have been searching for a true R&B king, a man of extraordinary vision and unsurpassed smoothness, a man who can make the ladies swoon and the guys pack the dance floor. King Usher’s reign was a long and prosperous one, but shockingly he has become weak, failing to produce a new album strong enough to hold onto his royal title. And while Prince Chris Brown is certainly in line for the crown, he is still too young and has much to learn. But don’t fear my …
DJBooth Album Review
Ne-Yo may not - ok, does not - have the ripped abs and slick dance moves of Usher and Chris Brown, but on a musical level he has surpassed them both so significantly that I have no choice but to place the crown on his shiny head. In addition to being an irreplaceable gifted songwriter for other artists, Ne-Yo already has two smash solo albums to his credit, and that was before he dropped Year of the Gentleman, his superbly crafted third effort that serves as more of a coronation than an album release.
I’m not the only one to have pointed out the similarities between Ne-Yo and Michael (Mr. Jackson if you’re nasty), but let’s take a moment to set the record straight: Ne-Yo is no MJ. While both are masters of that eminently enjoyable space between pop and R&B, Ne-Yo is a chronically understated singer while Michael was infamously prone to bursts of vocal exuberance, especially while he was grabbing his crotch. Still, on Year of the Gentleman Ne-Yo takes a step closer to MJ status by making some of his most danceable tracks to date, starting with the lead single Closer. Musically, Closer is a collaborative effort between Ne-Yo and uber-producers Stargate that intertwines a bouncing bass and muted percussion with a soft guitar melody, setting the stage for Ne-Yo’s perfectly honed sense of melody to take center stage. In other words, this is exactly the kind of track MJ would make if he was still in the game. Nowhere is Ne-Yo more overtly influenced by his pop hero than on Nobody, a clapping track that would have sounded at home on Off The Wall. Careful listeners will even be able to hear Ne-Yo take his best shots at dropping some MJ-esque sighs and exhales into the vocals. Sadly the King of Pop has made more tabloid headlines than hit records in the last decade, and while Ne-Yo is certainly no MJ, Year of the Gentleman shows that on a musical level he’s closer than anyone’s been for some time.
Where Ne-Yo truly excels is his ability to tell a story - he may just be the most talented lyricist of his generation (with apologies to Mr. Kelly). Year of the Gentleman is accordingly filled with tales of love lost, found and given away, starting with Miss Independent. A player tricks women into loving them, but a ladies’ man loves a woman so convincingly that she has no choice but to love him back. Ne-Yo is currently music’s leading ladies’ man, as evidenced by the new hit Miss Independent. Miss Independent mixes club-land synths with his trademark harp melodies into an ode that’s every strong woman’s new favorite song (ironically replacing their old favorite, Irreplaceable). Even better is Fade Into The Background, a gripping tale of a man forced to watch his ex marry someone else. Ne-Yo’s strength is in his brilliantly measured simplicity and Fade is built around some live percussion and bass, Ne-Yo’s Prince-esque vocals, and not much else. From the humble Why Does She Stay to the “this affair is over” Back To What You Know, Year of the Gentleman hums with the sound of real life relationships.
The one thing Year of the Gentleman is missing, the one thing that could have pushed it into classic status, is a true bed-burner; even a gentleman can get down in the backseat of the Lac when he has to. But even without a baby-making slow jam, Year of the Gentleman is still the best r&b album of the year (so far). No royal lineage lasts forever and it’s entirely possible that Ne-Yo’s reign will be a short one, but for this one shining moment Ne-Yo is king, and Year of the Gentleman is his kingdom.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 09/14/08
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"All Because of You" (2007)
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