Ne-Yo's sixth album is being positioned as a return to the R&B singer's musical roots. It's an attempt to grab back Ne-Yo's core fan base given his affinity for dabbling (quite successfully, it must be said) in dance and EDM in recent years. While singing hooks on Pitbull tracks like "Give Me Everything" and having hits like "Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)" from 2012's R.E.D. have garnered Ne-Yo plenty of fist-pumping action in the clubs, the hits have done little to further develop Ne-Yo's artistic identity beyond the "gentleman" image he had been cultivating before, especially given the interchangeable template nature of those songs.
On Non-Fiction, Ne-Yo attempts to right this perception by banking on his rep as a storytelling songwriter for Rihanna ("Take A Bow") and Beyoncé ("Irreplaceable"), by placing himself as a character in a story detailed on Non Fiction's deluxe edition. The narrative isn't particularly groundbreaking; it tells the story of escaping a bad relationship, falling in love with someone else and then torpedoing it with his libido. Ne-Yo's MJ-indebted falsetto does deliver some highlights on the album, particularly on the slow-burning "Integrity," standout ballad "Take You There" and the foreboding, ScHoolboy Q-assisted "Run," on which he channels the Weeknd's nocturnal ambience. Meanwhile, "Religious," with its gospel-tinged vocal arrangements, along with the aching Marvin Gaye homage "Money Can Buy," are among the best records Ne-Yo has cut in recent years. However, there are invariably some weaker songs that may have not made the cut if they weren't kowtowing to the album's narrative arc. Chief offenders include the cringe-inducing "Story Time" and "Time of Our Lives," which ensures Non-Fiction is unfortunately not a Pitbull-free zone.
Though Ne-Yo has significantly toned down the EDM influence on this outing, he does attempt to combine R&B and dance on efforts like "Coming Home With You," which might give you Electric Circus flashbacks. Indicative of an underlying need to placate his various audiences, Non-Fiction — despite the loosely binding narrative — delivers an uneven synthesis of the sounds Ne-Yo had already been exploring rather than the promised straight up R&B record. (Motown/Universal)