TOSS THE HAT: The staid pop melodies don’t live up to Ne-Yo’s production.
Appearing on Tavis Smiley’s PBS talk show recently to promote this his second Def Jam release, 24-year-old Ne-Yo squirmed under a Michael Jackson–style brimmed hat that drooped over his eyes. In conversation, the singer-songwriter who has found success with his own work (“So Sick”) and others’ (Beyoncé’s smash “Irreplaceable”) is everything you would want: thoughtful, self-effacing, grounded. In performance, both live and on Because of You, he’s stuck in that hat, tied to Michael’s swooping ballads — as on the beautiful Jennifer Hudson collaboration “Leaving Tonight” and the lesser “Angel” — and staid pop melodies that fail to do his productions justice. Yes, there are moments of brilliance, maybe even more of them than there were on his hit debut. Although the title track and first single seems a little like a sped-up version of “So Sick,” its liquid rhythm calls early house jams to mind. And “Sex with My Ex” is as dirty as its title, scratching and clawing its way over gravelly drums and slithering piano keys. If he never takes another chance, this new R&B torch carrier will still have a pop career for another 20 years, but if he wants to make a real mark, he’ll have to toss that hat.