Ne-Yo held a listening at Def Jam's New York headquarters on Wednesday night for his fifth LP, R.E.D. (a.k.a. Realizing Every Dream), and though the 31-year-old R&B singer's dress code was unusually relaxed – he cheated on his trademark fedora with a laidback camouflage cap – he made sure that the scene was set for romance. Chocolate-dipped strawberries, red velvet cupcakes, long-stem cherries and scented candles dotted the office space. When he pressed play on album-opener "Cracks in Mr. Perfect," which includes a frank verse about knowingly having unprotected sex with a virtual stranger, it became clear that the man born Schaffer Smith is digging deeper this time around. "This is probably the most honest album I've ever written – almost honest to a fault," said Ne-Yo. "It's going to change some people's opinions of me … but fuck it."
Not that R&B's good guy has spun into full-on Dark Knight mode. R.E.D. (due out on September 18th) is as sentimental as any Ne-Yo album, but his introspection leads to some of his rawest lyrics yet – a welcome growth after his disappointing 2010 album, Libra Scale. Here were some of the notable tracks:
"Lazy Love": Adorned with slow-drip synths and a sonorous bass, the album's lead single emphasizes the kind of languid desire that pins a couple to their sheets way past morning.
"Should Be You" feat. Fabolous: Ne-Yo croons about the one that got away over Nineties-style production. It's remnisicent of Mary J. Blige's "I Love You," and it features the rapper Fabolous, who delivers clever one-liners about his regrets: "If I had dollar for every should-be/You know how rich I would be?"
"She Is": This record is one that Ne-Yo hopes will earn him stage time at the Country Music Awards. Co-written with Carrie Underwood's go-to collaborator, Luke Laird, the lyrics' mild Nashville nuance actually blend quite seamlessly with the singer's soulful vocals.
"All She Wants" feat. ReVaughn Brown: Ne-Yo gives thanks to a lover for not being a gold-digger over hip-swaying 808s, while newcomer Brown adds airy background notes.
"Slow Down": A sedated number that spotlights Ne-Yo's lithe falsetto, as he urges workaholic twosomes to turn off their iPhones for just one night, or three.
"Stress Reliever": "This is about my favorite sexual position/Let's see if your imaginations can guess it," Ne-Yo prefaces on this ditty that hearkens to R. Kelly and Lil Wayne's lewdest jams (hint: the word "lollipop" makes an appearance.)
"Alone With You": Directly inspired by the Beatles, this balmy track offers the perfect soundscape for an aimless, scenic drive. Bonus: according to Ne-Yo's 18-month-old daughter, Madilyn, it apparently converts into a mute button for bawling infants as well.