Considering he hasn’t released anything genuinely relevant in 15 years, Michael Jackson’s influence is surprisingly far-reaching. Singer-songwriter Ne-Yo’s sophomore effort, Because Of You, is just one example of the impact Quincy Jones-era MJ has had on today’s crop of young R&B performers. The album is almost identical to Ne-Yo’s promising debut, last year’s In My Own Words, but, while it starts off strong with the thumping yet melodic title track, nothing here matches the smooth pop of “So Sick” and “Sexy Love,” and there are at least two other young stars out there doing the MJ thing better. If Ne-Yo is a Michael acolyte, he’s also got a bad case of Janet: the icky, drippy sex ballad “Say It” is essentially an attempt to coax dirty talk out of some chick he’s managed to bed. (It’s ultimately revealed—courtesy of the kind of silly, unanswered pillow whispering you can only find in mainstream R&B—that she wants it from behind!) Once again, Ne-Yo is pictured in the album’s booklet with a pen in his hand, a not so subtle reminder that he’s a “writer,” but if “Sometimes I love you more than you’ll ever know/Other times you get on my nerves” is the sign of quality R&B songwriting then the genre is in more serious trouble than ever. Ne-Yo has kept busy in between albums writing for the likes of Beyoncé (her Dreamgirls costar, Jennifer Hudson, previews her forthcoming debut, which will undoubtedly feature contributions by Ne-Yo, on the duet “Leaving Tonight”), and lest we forget “Irreplaceable,” “Go On Girl” regurgitates its drum loop but recaptures none of the immediacy that made that song such a huge hit.
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