Who says famous men don’t have women problems? The slip-ups, the thirst and the angst dominate Twitter feeds and give meme generators fodder for days. We see it when Drake slips into a porn star’s Instagram DM’s or football players get Catfished. Ne-Yo sets the tried and true narrative to music on his latest effort, Non-Fiction. It’s a long harrowing tale that’s one part Curtis Mayfield‘s Super Fly and two parts Usher‘s Confessions, but never quite hits the running stride of either album. Needless to say, Ne-Yo delivers to his core audience in that “let me run your bathwater” way he’s perfected to a science.
Non-Fiction unfolds every place that Ne-Yo goes: the club, in his car, in his bed, and mostly in his subconscious. First up, he meets Tammy Vanity, the “pretty as a summer day, shallow as a puddle” woman who only calls him to hit that red carpet: “The only time I hear from her/ is right around the BET Awards, VMAs, AMAs or Billboard’s/ asking what I’m nominated for…”
Ne-Yo plays with production in a way he’s never done before, experimenting with the TDE sound on “Run/An Island (Interlude)” with Schoolboy Q. Even though the sound is atypical for Ne-Yo it works, simply because he makes the melody bend to his trademark sexy lyrics.
In the second act, he meets Integrity Jones, the independent type wearing little makeup, and of course, buying her own drinks. We know Ne-Yo loves that. “Integrity,” featuring Charisse Jones, is the kind of cut that makes Ne-Yo fans swoon at their speakers. In an era where love songs are lacking in radio rotation, Ne-Yo can dominate whenever he pleases, simply because he remains unchallenged in that top spot. The moody cut “One More,” featuring T.I. is another ode to the working woman, a sexier version of his biggest hits. It’s the moment when “Miss Independent” is off the clock, pours herself a drink and turns on Scandal.
Non-Fiction flows like one fluid melody, changing pace only slightly, never disturbing the groove. He keeps the lyrics G enough for men, but completely gushworthy for the women.
His Pitbull collaboration “Time Of Our Lives” feels out of place, best left on Pitbull‘s new Globalization album, that New Year’s Eve party, or an NFL halftime show. It’s placement feels like it’s purely there to keep the lights on. And although Ne-Yo’s dabbling in EDM may be frustrating to his core R&B listeners, he experiments with the sound in a fresher way on “Who’s Taking You Home.” And on the follow up track, “Coming With You,” he transitions into house music with ease. It would be wise to take up residence there since the lane is wide open, separating him from Chris Brown’s and Rihanna‘s occasional dance cuts.
Even though he may seem like the choir boy to grandmas when it comes to R&B, the man knows how to write a song about sex. He sets the scene on “Take You There,” and it’s just as satisfying as his previous steamy album cuts, “Mirror” and “Stress Reliever.” This track could easily sync up with The Weeknd‘s sex cuts on 50 Shades of Grey, landing in Christian Grey’s red room: “Just submit to my love, baby/ Bite your lip and grip the sheets.” The sex-lude continues with “Good Morning,” a not so subtle ode to a morning romp: “Sun’s coming up/ as I’m going down.” It’s enough to make a moan-filled Janet Jackson interlude proud.
He smoothly asks for a threesome in the guise of an acoustic country track on the hilarious “Story Time.” Although served with a spoonful of sugar, it’s never quite enough to get his lover to agree, and it’s hard not to laugh as the song comes to a close.
“Make It Easy” is a clear single frontrunner, and finds Ne-Yo at his best: making women feel like a million dollars just for having his back. Previously released cuts “Money Can’t Buy” and “She Knows” make an appearance on Non-Fiction. The by-far under-rated cut, “Religious” is also included, and could be one of Ne-Yo’s smoothest, and that’s saying a lot given his discography. It could be looped for continuous play in the car, at the office, or while… doing other things.
Although Integrity held his attention for some time, Ne-Yo is introduced and lured in with some groupie loving on “She Said I’m Hood Tho.” As long as you’re a real one, it seems like you can very well get lucky in Ne-Yo’s DMs. More so, it proves that human nature happens at absolutely every tax bracket.
The album closes with “Congratulations,” as Ne-Yo’s one who got away finds love with another. “I learned wifey material is wifey material and if you ain’t ready to wife gotta let it go.” And as the story comes to a close, we find Ne-Yo in the same place: single and content, with a few regrets, but just out here living.
Non-Fiction is robust with 20 tracks, which may hurt or hinder with regard to attention span. But Ne-Yo fans won’t be disappointed, as they will enjoy a solid new addition to the collection.
Stream Ne-Yo’s latest, Non-Fiction on Spotify below.