I could never get into Ne-Yo. His voice just annoyed me, hovering on a kind of Keith Sweat "ooh, baby baby" whine. I much preferred Joe. Or Jaheim. If you’re going to "ooh baby baby" me, I want my bones to rattle a bit and frankly, you do too.
So, I steered away from Ne-Yo the singer, yet giving much props to his writing abilities.
"Year of the Gentleman" is Ne-Yo I can appreciate for what can only amount to disturbingly self-involved reasons. The album — sigh, I remember vinyl — is wall to wall woman appreciation. What mumble mumble year old self-sustaining woman wouldn’t adore "Miss Independent," an ode to a woman in charge of her life, particularly coming from such a sweet voiced (yeah, now he’s sweet voiced) young man. This is what I love about youth. It hasn’t faced all those years of experience that indicate that living with independence in another can be trying.
The songwriting on the album (hee) is impressive, tackling interesting scenarios and circumstances with more than just "ooh, baby baby." "Back to What You Know" is a song about surrender; giving up on a love that loves someone else. (The Dixie Chicks had a perfect line for it on "Fly;" "the beauty of just letting go.") Acoustic guitar, maybe, in the background gives the rhythm and the words are astute: "This is impossible/We’ll never work ’cause you don’t want it, girl/You belong with him/So go back to what you know."
Club life is gone for me now. I always feel like I’m everyone’s mom. But were I into more than dancing in the reflection of my living room windows, the minute "Nobody" came on, I’d grab the nearest puzzle piece and make him dance with me, doing my best to live up to "Nobody strut like her/Can’t nobody touch her/Nobody cut like her." Rote and kind of a JT knockoff but much more melodic. Lots going on in the background…a lot like Quincy Jones. The club’s loss in my living room windows’ gain because I just danced to it twice.
Scenarios. Fights ("Mad"). Taking a woman for granted ("Why Does She Stay"). Another hot woman controlling things song that would send dear Tucker Bounds into peals of giggles ("Closer"). Heartbreak sucks but life goes on and oh by the way I can sing ear honey ("So You Can Cry"). A lovely recounting of all the things to love about a woman in an interesting minor key (I think) ("Part of the List"). A guy unwilling to shout "Elaine" attending the girl’s wedding ("Fade Into The Background").
But slather me up some wry self-delusion and I’ll play the song ("Lie To Me") over and over the whole 18 mile hour commute home. "I don’t want to know what I know to be true/What I need you to do/Tell me another lie." Saddest shit I ever heard.
But sweetly sung and barely a whine.