A cursory hearing of Ne-Yo’s fourth album might have listeners believing this was yet another of his smooth urban pop fantasy rides. It is, after all, brimming with feathery bedroom enticements and excited-but-urbane dance-floor exhortations powered by champagne, handclaps, and Michael Jackson-influenced cadences.
So far, so much pleasant contemporary R&B.
And yet, according to the press notes, “Libra Scale’’ is in fact a full-on concept album about superheroes who pose as sanitation workers by day, and must forswear love in exchange for their powers. The full back story — which includes one of these men “infecting’’ a paramour with superpowers who then becomes his arch nemesis — is not at all explicit in the songs. (The concept does, however, make the reference to the “sexing’’ of a lover’s mind on “Telekinesis’’ a little more understandable.)
Comic-book-style inspiration notwithstanding, “Libra Scale’’ is enjoyable, but doesn’t consistently reach the heights of 2008’s adventurous “Year of the Gentleman’’ or the peaks of his own stellar track record as a songwriter-for-hire to folks like Beyoncé (“Irreplaceable’’) and Rihanna (“Take a Bow’’).
The record does exude enough of the Las Vegas native’s innate gentlemanly cool and melodic touch to spawn a couple of obvious ear-catching singles — including the ecstatic, synth-tastic Stargate collaboration “Beautiful Monster’’ — and rope you into a few deep cuts such as the gently pulsating “One in a Million,’’ and the hitching “Genuine Only.’’ (Out tomorrow)
ESSENTIAL “Genuine Only’’