Ne-Yo’s new “Libra Scale” is a concept album: Three garbage men get superpowers; fame and fortune follow, but at the cost of never falling in love. When one of them — Ne-Yo’s alter-ego character, Jerome — does become infatuated with a woman, he has to choose between keeping his relationship or his money. Ne-Yo captures this sense of indecision on “Libra Scale,” but probably not in the way he intended.

If you’re expecting the smooth, suave Ne-Yo of his 2008 album, “Year of the Gentleman,” prepare to be disappointed. The transitions between songs here are abrupt and clunky, giving most of the album a slow feel. Only a few tracks have the frenetic pace you’d expect on songs about chaotic relationships and awesome superpowers. Out of 10 tracks, the majority are completely forgettable.

Libra ScaleThe album opens with “Champagne Life,” an overly slick, monotonous six minutes that introduces Ne-Yo’s concept: “I’m living out my dreams/Watching them come true/Baby, I’m a boss/ don’t know what they do,” he rhymes, offering no clue whatsoever that the record is about a trash man who hits the big time. The next tracks, “Making a Movie” and “Know Your Name,” plunge into the love-affair portion of the album, but are pretty one-note. The former adds some jazzy touches, but its self-aggrandizing lyrics are hard to get past: “I mean, it ain’t just talk/I’m a winner/So I ain’t never lost.” The latter’s painfully slow pace is unbearable: “I’m not trying to scare you,” Ne-Yo sings. No, but he may put you to sleep.

There’s lots of wooing on display — “Telekinesis” and “Crazy Love” meet the lusty ballad prerequisite, bragging about sexy moves “you’re gonna need to see to believe are true.” But the overall dramatic setup falls short on songs featuring any actual conflict, with a couple harder tracks just tacked onto the end of the record. Still, they end up being the best ones: “‘Cause I Said So,” with its lovers’ quarrel (“Do it cause you want to/You want to cause I said so,” Ne-Yo insists), is a pretty accurate chronicle of a disintegrating relationship. And the record’s first single, “Beautiful Monster,” is infectiously catchy, with riskier lyrics outlining a deadly affair. Closing track “What Have I Done” — with its shades-of-Lady-Macbeth lyrics about “blood on my hands” — packs more genuine emotion than any other song on the record.

Ultimately, Ne-Yo’s concept album just doesn’t come together. In a July interview with the Courier Mail, Ne-Yo said, “If you half-ass a concept, of course no one will appreciate it.” That’s exactly the problem with “Libra Scale.”

Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy of Alexandra “Ali” Bianchi/Def Jam