Ne-Yo has said that the follow-up to his coolly received 2010 concept album "Libra Scale" represents a kind of creative retrenchment — an effort "to just get back to the basics," as the R&B star recently told Vibe Vixen magazine. You get some of that from the first two songs on "R.E.D.," both of which Ne-Yo co-wrote with Shea Taylor, who also produced. "Cracks in Mr. Perfect" and "Lazy Love" share an up-close intimacy with tunes Taylor has made with Beyoncé and Frank Ocean, and the album's third cut, "Let Me Love You (Until You Love Yourself)," seems designed to remind us of simpler times by recycling a portion of its title from the 2004 Mario hit that was one of Ne-Yo's first big songwriting successes.
After that, though, "R.E.D." doesn't really stick to the idea of less is more. In "Don't Make 'Em Like You" the singer teams with Wiz Khalifa for a relatively bumptious hip-hop track, while "Forever Now" and "Shut Me Down" extend Ne-Yo's flirtation with pulsating dance music. Tim McGraw even joins him for a lightly country-fried duet in "She Is," repaying a favor Ne-Yo did McGraw on the latter's "Emotional Traffic." The sound narrows again in "Stress Reliever," another lovely Taylor production built atop a minimal deep-space drum beat. But it only cleanses your palate for more flavors to come.
Two and a half stars