Ne-Yo still sounds (and looks) sexy

Fans of R&B music have almost unanimously decided that the Ne-Yo from 2008 charms more naturally than what we’ve heard as of late. But within the first few seconds of new album R.E.D., the gentleman attempts to convince us that he’s returning to the more soulful styles from before. “Cracks in Mr. Perfect” crackles like a vinyl record, leading into a slow beat with a bluesy guitar riff and trailing before Ne-Yo’s initial apologies to whoever the singer has done wrong. The introductory song admits flaws and shows the transparently regretful side of the musician.

Though Ne-Yo’s recent direction in pop music reveled in the up-tempo that come with DJ-producer Calvin Harris’s contemporary music collaborations on the charts, finally Ne-Yo returns to his roots Ne-Yo’s first single, “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself),” which was written in part by singer Sia Furler, has performed well on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts and given fans a good eye into what was to come in Ne-Yo’s fifth studio album. Only a few songs are like “Let Me Love You” on the latest album, though, including the sexy “Forever Now,” so fans may be surprised to hear a return to classic Ne-Yo.

The singer still has some soul-searching to do before achieving the masterful soulfulness of Grammy-earned success, but R.E.D. breaks ground in the quest to grow from professional blunders. Much of the new album takes a step in the right direction musically, showing us he understands his destiny lies in less dance-pop than in R&B–something we knew all along.

R.E.D. dons the unfortunately similar title to a recent chart-topping concept album but Ne-Yo’s version veers in a more empowering direction. For Taylor Swift, loving him was “red,” but for Ne-Yo, the message is about “Realizing Every Dream.” “Carry On (Her Letter to Him)” expresses these thoughts fearlessly in a unique songwriting piece of magic. The sounds, urban and symphonic, won’t be overlooked by fans.

“They don’t make ‘em like you no more… You’re one of a kind, baby,” Ne-Yo serenades a very lucky woman on “Don’t Make Em Like You” so softly and generously. Rapper Whiz Khalifa’s admirably childlike words will later help the song express a special love just as Ne-Yo has done as a featurette on numerous contemporary slammers. The singer’s friends on R.E.D. treat listeners to unanticipated , and a drop-in by Tim McGraw rings in an easy highlight on the album. The country artist’s unmistakable voice shines a new light on a memorable story.

Each of these songs will be worth playing again and again over the coming weeks not only because the tracks showcase Ne-Yo’s smooth and sultry vocals more gracefully than we’ve heard from the singer in nearly five years, but because the crooner’s shift to Motown Records has inspired a change back to the more classic and more classy singer we once knew. The vocalist charmed us with Year Of The Gentleman back in 2008 but lost touch in the two interim albums. Now we can revel in tunes such as “Lazy Love” and “Miss Right” just as we did with “Mad” and “So Sick,” those painfully sweet and blissfully bitter that made us melt into our seats. He’s still sexy and still talented as they come, so we’ll be melting until the day Ne-Yo sets down the microphone.