American singer/producer may have slipped into a comfort zone of mid-tempo jams and sexual bravado, but latest offering shows the talent is still there
At this stage in his career Ne-Yo deserves as many victory laps as he wants – together with Stargate he conquered pop music, overseeing its transition from melodramatic R&B to pumping EDM while excelling at both. If he receives less mainstream attention these days, this is because he’s slipped into more of a comfort zone of mid-tempo jams and sexual bravado, but the talent is still there in spades.
Lead single U 2 Luv hits the sweet spot with a homage to Zapp’s Computer Love, as Ne-Yo and Jeremih duet over the old-school drum machine loop (“Add Netflix to this massage / better yet, turn that shit off / cause I love to hear you cussing at me / like ‘ooh shit, baby, too deep’”), while You Got The Body’s woozy trap beat and nimble topline make a novel yet entrancing combination. Ne-Yo’s versatility as a singer is also on display for Don’t Love Me, his tender upper register rubbing up against a rap-style delivery accompanied by acoustic guitar and booming bass.
As Self Explanatory enters its final third the record branches out stylistically: What If contains the type of 4×4 percussion that characterised his early-2010s work, and works well apart from some amateurish aspects of production. Want It All Or Nothing focuses on indecision within a relationship as the beat coasts along in a Tame Impala-esque manner, soulful bassline, introspective chord sequence and a crisp, clean drum groove. On an album that can hardly be described as reinventing the wheel, this track hints at a new direction which Ne-Yo could go in if he so chose.
It’s a little odd to hear an artist who once pioneered his own sound plant himself smack-bang in the middle of today’s R&B scene, but in his defence he’s very good at it, which makes Self Explanatory a worthwhile record in itself.