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Ne-Yo “Libra Scale” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Ne-Yo’s new album, as he has explained in numerous interviews leading up to the release of Libra Scale, is a self-described conceptual piece which focuses on the conflicts that arise between love, power and money. In one such discussion with Rolling Stone‘s Sean Fennessey the vocalist detailed some of the primary influences that impacted the direction of the music, “The whole idea to do this for my fourth came from not doing an album in ’09 because I was doing two movies, learning how to write for the screen.” He continued, “And then, the inspiration was furthered by Michael Jackson’s passing, looking at ‘Thriller,’ ‘Moonwalker,’ ‘Bad.’ Those were more than just videos—those were movies.” But after releasing the album’s first three singles, including the house-influenced “Beautiful Monster” (which was the highest charting of the three in the U.S., peaking at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100), the singer was critical in his response to the tepid reception his new music was receiving. In discussing his frustration, he explained to London’s PunchBowl TV that, “The last time somebody did a concept album was year’s ago. In that the way that we’re telling the story I was aware of the fact that it could possibly go over some people’s heads.” But is the concept of the album so innovative that it has creatively distanced Ne-Yo from much of his fan base? Not at all. Rather, and keeping his outspokenness in mind here, it’s Ne-Yo’s picturesque vision of what the album should be that unfortunately fails to come close to what Libra Scale actually sounds like.

From the opening moments of “Champagne Life” to the closing moments of the second to last song on Libra Scale—the aforementioned “Beautiful Monster,” produced by the largely hit-or-miss Norwegian production duo StarGate—there is no evidence of this master plan that Ne-Yo has so persistently stood behind. There is no mention of the internal struggle faced by the story’s lead characters—revealed by Ne-Yo to be Jerome, Clyde, and Leroy: a group of garbage men-made-good (whose roles are only vaguely referenced visually in the singles’ music videos)—and there is no evidence anywhere that supports the talented singer’s claim that the album is the musical accompaniment to a “147 page script” which he wrote chronicling these characters’ stories. The songs in Libra Scale are simply about love and sex, rounded out with a little bit of romance.

“Champagne Life” opens the album with a tremendous bounce, but lyrically the only cloudy reference to the “plot” is Ne-Yo’s reflection on living the good life in his hook, “Living the champagne life, everything’s okay.” “Makin’ a Movie” hints at an opening sequence of a film as the song’s introduction reveals “The stage is set, the lights are on, and this is where the magic happens/So without further ado: our feature presentation,” but it ultimately lapses into a slow moving track laced with party clichés, “We’re making a movie/And the director is me, so when i yell cut we gonna leave.” Ne-Yo comes on strong with his best Michael Jackson in the sultry “Know Your Name,” but again: the song is simply about hitting on women. “Telekinesis” continues by slowing things down musically, but its only real redeeming factor is that it adds one of the steamier lyrics to the album, “Girl have you ever had someone take the time/So sex your body, but also sex your mind.”

“Crazy Love” finds the singer wading in confusion over a destructive relationship before Fabolous takes over the track, humorously concluding his verse with “Hit it from the back hard/Hope you got Geico.” “One in a Million” and “Genuine Only” follow as lyrical odes to finding one’s soul mate while “Cause I Said So” lyrically teases a domineering relationship, “Do it ’cause you want to, you want to ’cause I said so.” And while being one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Beautiful Monster” merely unfolds much in the same was as “Crazy Love” does, “You’re a knife, sharp and deadly/And it’s me that you cut into/But I don’t mind, in fact I like it/Though I’m terrified, I’m turned on but scared of you.” Libra Scale closes with “What Have I Done,” which stands as the only variation from the thematic focus on personal relationships, but any resemblance to the movie that Ne-Yo had painted in his mind is ambiguous at best, the song focusing on guilt and remorse for vague wrongdoings, “There’s blood on my hands, guilty party/Ain’t no sense but I’m the one/I’m responsible for this, sure as the moon shines, ’cause I’m the sun.”

Musically the album is consistent as the production matches Ne-Yo’s charismatic flow and is ceaselessly enjoyable throughout. But not unlike his perception of the lyrical themes, Ne-Yo’s view of the musical range of Libra Scale is highly questionable. Continuing with PunchBowl TV he addressed his approach to music, and more specifically: the album, “At the end of the day I can’t be the kind of person to do the same thing over and over and over again.” “I’m an artist,” he continued, “and as an artist, what it is to be an artist is to expand and grow and evolve; take risks, take chances, I feel like that’s what keeps the shit interesting.” He then concluded his thought by lashing out at the state of modern pop, calling it “stagnant” and “wack” before explaining how “Everybody sounds the same, everybody looks the same, everybody shoots the same videos, sings the same damn song.” Ceaselessly enjoyable—sure—but Libra Scale is far from remarkable, and certainly not a record that captures the spirit of innovation that is so highly oversold by the singer.

The only way that Ne-Yo’s thematic claims might make sense is if there were in fact a movie to complement the music; something which is apparently on its way in the form of a series of long-playing videos which should supplement the album’s previously-released music videos. But without the visuals any puffing concerning an of out-of-the-box approach, whether it be musically or lyrically, which the singer has—on multiple occasions—expressed concerning the already lukewarm response to Libra Scale is nothing but a smokescreen to mask an unspectacular pop album that does little to separate Ne-Yo from all of the other “stagnant” and “wack” hit-makers who continue to sound the same, look the same and sing the same damn songs.