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Junk Mail: Ne-Yo 'Non-Fiction' Album Review

by Carolyn Menyes   Jan 29, 2015 16:45 PM EST

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Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling and Caitlin Carter chat about Ne-Yo's new album Non-Fiction. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.

Caitlin Carter: Here we are at our third Junk Mail of 2015 with Ne-Yo's latest effort, Non-Fiction. To start off, we all know this guy can write hits. He has collaborated with and written songs for basically every big name star.

However, after hearing Non-Fiction, I think his efforts behind the scene surpass his work in the spotlight. The project was imagined as a concept album, and I think that was a bit ambitious for the material he gave us. I don't think there was a hit to be found in the course of 1 hour, 6 minutes. The theme of the album was supposed to be "real stories" about "fictional people" but it came across more as Ne-Yo trying to act smooth and pick up women.

Kyle Dowling: I completely agree. Non-Fiction seemed to be a collection of cheesy attempts to get women into bed. I was very hopeful for this album after hearing the first few seconds of "Run" with Schoolboy Q, but after about 20 seconds that excitement left me, sadly. There were a few tracks which I can label tolerable but all in all, this was not a record for me. "One More," "Who's Taking You Home"... It sounds like he wrote some of the songs while sitting in the booth of some club. No thank you.

Carolyn Menyes: I think being cheesy is kind of Ne-Yo's game. This is the dude that gave us "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)" and "Miss Independent," after all. So, you know, you kind of have to walk in to Non-Fiction expecting that. And that didn't bother me too terribly much. I think individual songs here do work, but Non-Fiction falls to some major flaws, namely album length and the weird concept.

As to your point, think that this album has some hits on it -- "She Knows" and "Time of Our Lives" have already had some impact on the charts, whether or not they have the merits to.

CC: I think the fact that after listening to the album (at least for me) that nothing stuck out to me is telling. You don't want your supposed "hits" to be overlooked because you've had them listening to your work for more than an hour. It's possible that hearing them outside of the context of the album could be a different experience.

KD: I think if there were any hits on the album, it would be "Time of Our Lives." I didn't hate that track. All I can say is thank God Pitbull took a break from buying some more white suits on the beaches of Miami to add some frat boy-like spins on this album. I'd also put "Money Can't Buy" up there -- at least, Jeezy's part.

CM: I think "Time of Our Lives" could hit really big -- it's sitting at No. 21 on the Hot 100 this week and it's only climbing. I will say it also stands out on Non-Fiction, but that's in a bad way. It really takes me out of the album sonically, kind of like a sore thumb courtesy of Pitbull. This is clearly because the song actually first appeared on Mr. Worldwide's 2014 album Globalization and was just repackaged for Ne-Yo's LP. And I HATE when one song is on two (or three) albums. Don't know why it's so bothersome, but it is.

Other than that, I'm thinking there aren't a lot of standouts on this record because it flows well. It's kind of a double-edged sword. Is that good or bad? I don't know. Depends on what Ne-Yo's shooting for.

CC: I can definitely see "Time of Our Lives" working, it just didn't do much for me. Carolyn, I feel the same way about having the same song on multiple albums. Unless it's remixed or has extra/different verses, I don't see the point in the digital age. Maybe back when everything was on a physical format, but now it doesn't make sense.

Pretty much the only songs doing anything for me are the ones with features. Schoolboy Q, Jeezy, and Pitbull definitely help. I don't see anything on the album standing the test of time, however.

KD: I wouldn't say the flow of the album was ruined for me when I heard "Time of Our Lives" because I wasn't necessarily enjoying the flow or concept to begin with. I needed those songs to knock me out of the incredible vegetable torpor I was feeling from Non-Fiction. Now, even though those tunes may very well stand out on the album (for better or for worse), I'd agree that they won't stand the test of time. Though they're of the most enjoyable to me, they're not ones I'll revisit. And as far as I'm concerned, "Story Time" will gladly leave my memory come the end of this Junk Mail.

CM: OH MY GOD "STORY TIME." I can't even get into the problems of that song. He's trying to convince his girlfriend she's bi-sexual so he can sleep with someone else? "Sleezy" is just too kind for that song. It's sexist and gross and manipulative and he kind of threatens to hit her? What even is that crap?

The rest of this album is pretty whatever to me. It's kind of swarmy, but it's not awful. That song, though, is some next level bullcrap.

CC: He's all "I want to have a threesome but the idea of it being with another male in the room repulses me," which is a bit ridiculous. Thou doth protest too much?

KD: It honestly made me want to not listen to the rest of the album. And I believe it's the second to last song on the regular release edition so perhaps the placement was perfect.

CM: It should've been left like five songs after the album, a.k.a. ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR.

KD: Oh, snap.

CC: I'm curious what you're thoughts were on the spoken-word poetry sprinkled throughout. I think it's a cool concept, but I just don't think it was executed in the best way. It seemed a bit contrived and unnatural.

CM: It seemed to me to be that faux-deepness. The opening piece "Non-Fiction" actually made me laugh out loud when I heard it. "This story here is complete fiction. It is, however, made up of a group of stories, true stories about real people, thus creating real characters going through real things. Thus, making the story true." Puh-leeeeeze.

KD: I can understand adding some sort of artistic angle in there to make it stand out, which very well could have been what Ne-Yo was trying to do, but those poetic spoken-word things just seemed a bit jarring to me, and not to use the word again, rather cheesy. I don't know, I don't want to say that this is a bad album because I'm sure fans of his will like it, but it totally didn't do it for me.

CC: I wouldn't call this album terrible, either. But for me, if an album doesn't move you, then what's the value? The guy is obviously talented and is making other artists tons of money. But I think he wanted a larger than life album for himself, and it didn't come out the way he probably envisioned it. I would've had him scrap the concept album idea and really hammer home eight to 10 songs that told the story he was trying to tell. Sometimes less is more.

KD: That's the way to put it. It didn't move me. Because of that, I'll gladly move it out of my memory.

CM: Fair. Am I going to revisit Ne-Yo's Non-Fiction in three months or totally forgot it existed? Probably the latter, and I think most people will agree with me. I still think you guys are being a little over-harsh. Yes, the spoken interludes are cheesy and totally shallow. Yes, "Story Time" is the worst song I've heard thus far in 2015...

But overall, this is a fine effort. I can find some positives in this bump-'n'-grind R&B. "She Knows" and "One More" are really solid saucy R&B offerings. But in the midst of all the filler tracks and by the sheer length of Non-Fiction, songs that could work simply get lost.

FINAL THOUGHTS

CM: Ne-Yo tried really, really hard on Non-Fiction. Maybe he was too ambitious. When he gets into the groove, he can make some really beautiful R&B. But, more often than not, music here gets lost in the grandeur of the album and Non-Fiction feels like a story I don't care to read again. 

CC: Ne-Yo has undeniable talent. He seems to have gone a bit overboard with Non-Fiction. He sort of set himself up when he opened the album with a convoluted statement, and that was echoed throughout the album.

Instead of dragging it out for 1 hour and 6 minutes, he should've really highlighted the best of the album and left the rest on the cutting room floor. The gems that he did have got lost in the shuffle, and even then they don't shine that bright. Plus I wasn't a huge fan of the storyline to begin with. Too much sleaze for me. A for effort but the delivery just isn't there. 

KD: Non-Fiction just did not do it for me. I found it dragging and incapable of keeping my interest. I'm sure once in the groove Ne-Yo can make great music - it's been proven before - but this album wasn't that.  

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