After getting admittedly "too cool for the room" with 2010's experimental "Libra Scale," it's nice to hear Ne-Yo return to his core of melodic R&B on his fifth studio album "R.E.D." -- not to mention build on his ever-expanding dance-pop footprint on the album's second half. 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. There's a reason that soaring EDM-pop single "Let Me Love You" is his first top 10 hit as a lead artist since 2008's more R&B-leaning "Miss Independent" -- no matter what the genre, Ne-Yo finds a way to inject soul into everything he sings.
Which are the best tracks on "R.E.D." (which stands for "Realizing Every Dream")? Read on for Billboard's track-by-track review of Ne-Yo's latest album.
1. "The Cracks In Mr. Perfect"
Originally intended to be the title track for the album before Ne-Yo settled on "R.E.D.," "Mr. Perfect" nevertheless finds him taking a chisel to his own clean-cut image to establish a more confessional dynamic with his fans. Though the biggest revelations turn out to be Ne-Yo's penchant for spending "40K in three hours," trying hard to be faithful to his fiancée, and being a natural competitor ("I say I'm not a hater / but I hate to see you shine"), the Shea Taylor-produced track is a welcome stroke of honesty for Ne-Yo.
2. "Lazy Love"
Released back in May, "Lazy Love" may not have been the best track to set the tone for "R.E.D.," but this sexy, bedroom-ready ballad is worthy of its place next to other Ne-Yo love-making hits like "When You're Mad" and "Sexy Love."
3."Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)"
The song that re-established Ne-Yo's top 40 appeal is also further proof that co-writer Sia Furler (David Guetta's "Titanium," Flo Rida's "Wild Ones") is the crème de la crème of emotive dancefloor ballads. The song's uplifting self-worth message (not to mention soul clap-heaven bridge, "for every heart that beats / for every heart that beats") make this one of 2012's standout dance-pop cuts in a year filled with far more innocuous entries.
4. "Miss Right"
Who is "Miss Right" to Ne-Yo? "The kind that makes you want to put your games away / thinkin' 'bout the future but first I'll say hello / good evening," the ever-gentlemanly Ne-Yo croons on this mellow StarGate-produced cut.
The kind of catchy, Michael Jackson-channeling midtempo cut that Ne-Yo could write in his sleep, "Jealous" finds Ne-Yo envious of "everything that gets to know" his lady. Though "R.E.D." is already four singles deep out the gate, don't be surprised if this sumptuous song sees a proper release in the near future.
6."Don't Make Em Like You" (Feat. Wiz Khalifa)
Putting a more hip-hop inflected spin on the same kind of tribute to classy girls that made "Miss Independent" such a big hit in 2008, "Don't Make Em Like You" boasts a guest rap from Wiz Khalifa and a sing-along "hey-ey" chorus reminiscent of Andy Grammer's "Keep Your Head Up."
7."Be The One"
Teasing the four-on-the-floor bangers that close out the album, "Be The One" is a synth-drenched StarGate jam that keeps the listener waiting for the tempo to take off but is all the more dramatic for keeping things at a medium pace.
Another turn-the-lights-off love ballad, "Stress Reliever" shows an exceptionally intimate, hushed side of Ne-Yo that would fit right at home sonically on Miguel's futuristic sex opus "Kaleidoscope Dream" while still keeping the lyrics decidedly PG.
9."She Is (Featuring Tim McGraw)
"Ne-Yo goes country" is a relative term here, as "She Is" mostly adds a little bit more acoustic guitar and a guest vocal from Tim McGraw to what is otherwise a standard Ne-Yo ballad. Still, if it sets up another genre for Ne-Yo to crossover, he couldn't have picked a better writing partner than Luke Laird (Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean.)
10."Carry On (Her Letter To Him)"
A song sung from the perspective of a woman walking away from a relationship, "Carry On" features one of Ne-Yo's silkiest vocals on "R.E.D."and provides additional evidence that his sensitive side is his most natural state.
Let the dancing begin! Already being teed up as the follow-up to "Let Me Love You" at pop radio, "Forever Now" is another StarGate-assisted, arena-sized track that finds Ne-Yo mourning a breakup on the dancefloor ("What am I gonna do with forever now?")
12."Shut Me Down"
If tracks like "Jealous" sound almost too effortless in adhering to the Ne-Yo formula for R&B, this is Ne-Yo's most dance-by-the-numbers entry on "R.E.D."s second half. Though it boasts an earworm-worthy chorus ("for what it's worth / I'm in love with you") it lacks the same oomph as "Let Me Love You"or "Forever Now."
Ending things on a helplessly romantic note, "Unconditional" finds Ne-Yo pledging his endless love over a pulsating beat that brings to mind his 2008 hit "Closer." If the constant refrains of "I would do anything for you" get a little tiresome, Ne-Yo's earnest vocals continue to sell the listener.