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Non-Fiction Review

by Andy Kellman

There are considerable reasons to approach Non-Fiction with doubt. It follows R.E.D., Shaffer Smith's least satisfying studio set. His first release to fall short of gold-selling status, R.E.D. was trailed by another series of support roles on dance-pop singles and rap album cuts. David Guetta's "Play Hard" was the lone track to leave an impression, and it did so far outside the U.S. The first single from Non-Fiction preceded the album by eight months. It and those that followed were all high-profile collaborations, like it didn't matter that eight of Ne-Yo's nine Top Ten R&B hits were made without the involvement of a rapper. A look at the back of Non-Fiction's standard 14-track edition prompts more skepticism: the first three songs are propped up by guests, while track five is "Time of Our Lives," the fifth single from Pitbull's Globalization, featuring Ne-Yo. Patched together and sprawling even in standard form -- it's the television edit compared to the director's cut deluxe edition -- Non-Fiction nonetheless contains more standouts than any Ne-Yo album since Because of You. There's some frivolous content, such as the fireside acoustic number "Story Time" and rote EDM squib "Who's Taking You Home." Beyond that, there's a lot of imaginative and high-quality modern R&B, like "She Knows," "She Said I'm Hood Though," and "One More," all tough but finely crafted slow jams. In the last of that bunch, listeners who dismiss Ne-Yo as soft might chuckle at "I would love the opportunity to rub your feet" and miss that it's a set up for the suggestion of a three-way. The smaller uptempo portion is highlighted by "Coming with You," a dazzling Stargate production like no other that contains a hip-house core and soars. Closing track "Congratulations," another superlative ballad, is like a more mature alternate version of Year of the Gentleman cut "Fade Into the Background," where Ne-Yo once again concedes the loss of a woman who's "wifey material." [The album's standard edition lacks "Non-Fiction," "Everybody Loves You/The Def of You," "Let You What...," "Take You There," "Why," and some intra-track spoken interludes of the deluxe edition.]

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