Ne-Yo’s sixth studio album, “Non-Fiction (Deluxe)” (2015) hit the shelves recently, making it the artist’s first new album in three years. Listeners were expecting to it to be a hit, especially after such a long period of silence from Ne-Yo. Unfortunately, the artist did not live up to expectations.
As the album’s title might suggest, “Non-Fiction” aims to tell a story through its tracks. The title track, for example, showcases Ne-Yo speaking to the listener, prefacing what listeners are about to hear, beginning with Ne-Yo saying, “The story you ’bout to hear is complete fiction. It is however made up of a group of stories, true stories about real people.” But the story itself is complicated and difficult to follow.
The album’s ability to tell a central story like this is lost if the audience isn’t listening to the entire album chronologically, which is often the case. Tracks that are more specifically “story-telling” tracks are completely lost when played out of the context of the album as a whole. It’s difficult to retain audience attention with a piece that relies on an immersive listening experience, since many people are only tuning in just to hear Ne-Yo croon classics similar to hits like “Mad”(2008) and “So Sick”(2006). Tracks off “Non-Fiction (Deluxe),” such as “Everybody Loves/The Def of You (Interlude),” “Let You What…(Interlude),” and “Good Morning/Gon’ Ride,” will prove to be disappointing to those who are seeking more typical tracks in Ne-Yo’s classic soulful, passionate fashion.
Furthermore, “Non-Fiction” jumps from genre to genre, which is perhaps a testament to Ne-Yo’s versatility as an artist but also reflects the lack of cohesion on the album. “Take You There” and “Religious/Ratchet Wit Yo Friends (Interlude)” feature pleasing harmonies that offer a gospel feel. At the same time, Ne-Yo chooses to include “Time of Our Lives,” a track featuring Pitbull. The intense dance beat on the track clashes too heavily when juxtaposed with the album’s majority R&B vibe. In yet another change in genre, Ne-Yo slows it down toward the end of the album with the entirely acoustic “Story Time.” His extraordinary vocals and peaceful guitar, however, are seemingly ruined by the lyrics of this song, which follow the story of the singer’s persona in the song as he attempts to convince a partner to have a threesome, “You never know / Got to open up your mind / You only live once, know what I’m talking ’bout?” It’s disappointing to find low-quality lyrics like this, or lines like, “When it’s early in the morning and my breath stink,” on “Make It Easy.” This is especially apparent when, at other moments, there are intriguing lyrics; prime examples include, “I need you to melt in my mouth,” off “Good Morning/Gon’ Ride” and the play on words in “Who’s Taking You Home” with, “Girl, I’m lookin’ at your body / And there ain’t nobody better.”
Somewhat surprisingly, as Ne-Yo has had no problem developing catchy choruses in the past, he struggles to rope the listener in with the lackluster ones on “Non-Fiction.” Tracks like “One More” and “Good Morning/Gon’ Ride” are standouts in this regard. If the audience makes it to the end of the song, the song’s merit is self-evident. The journey to get to those conclusions is hard-fought however, and listeners may be tempted to press fast forward within the first thirty seconds of each track. There are a few featured artists on the album, including T.I., ScHoolboy Q and Jeezy.
“Run/An Island, (Interlude),” featuring ScHoolboy Q, is the most notable of the three collaborations; Q’s harsh vocals juxtapose beautifully to create a nice dynamic with Ne-Yo’s falsettos. Ne-Yo also attempts to diversify his mix of featured artists on the album with several female artists like Candice and Charisse Mills, but unfortunately, both artists are lost in background noise with their parts on “She Said I’m Hood Tho,” and “Integrity,” respectively.
There are few tracks reminiscent of old-school Ne-Yo. “Who’s Taking You Home” manages to showcase Ne-Yo’s vocals, while still maintaining a beat that makes it impossible to keep from dancing in your seat. “She Knows” has been the star of this album on the radio, with a pulsating sax beat that is the epitome of the R&B and dance hybrid for which Ne-Yo is known best.
After a three year hiatus, listeners will wish that Ne-Yo had invested more time brainstorming this album’s execution. There are a few tracks on “Non-Fiction” that will satisfy audience craving for chart-toppers, but Ne-Yo’s attempts at storytelling often feel stilted. Maybe another three years will prove to be more fruitful for Ne-Yo.