Sonic gadgets at war with ‘Words’


“In My Own Words” (Island Def Jam)

* * 1/2

NICKNAMED after Keanu Reeves’ “Matrix” character, this R&B-pop; singer-songwriter is “the one” who co-wrote Mario’s 2004 hit “Let Me Love You.” Now, 23-year-old Ne-Yo (ne Shaffer C. Smith) has his own hit with the charmingly conflicted “So Sick,” a wry complaint about his heartbreak and the love songs that fuel it.


On the radio, the tune’s busy, propulsive production -- handclaps, harmonies, harp and piano melody, off-kilter beat, boomping bass, new-wave keyboards -- intrigues the ear. But his hip-hop-flavored debut album is teeming with so much sonic gadgetry that it eventually fatigues the brain.

Working with an array of producers and co-writers, the Arkansas-born, Las Vegas-raised artist reveals a personal if not terribly inventive writing style that finds complexities in oft-expressed emotions, and delivers them with naked honesty on such numbers as the vintage-funky “Get Down Like That” and the sweetly romantic “Sexy Love.”

Unfortunately, the sincerity -- not to mention Ne-Yo himself -- is drowned in the relentless whirring of the music machine: vocal choruses, orchestral drama, horns and flutes, and endless sprinklings of electronic fairy dust.

Yet none of that is distraction enough when Ne-Yo trots out the hoariest cliches, like how an angry chick really turns him on (“When You’re Mad”) or lets loose his ego, as in the purportedly steamy, slow-rolling funk of “Mirror,” a request to make love with his girl in front of a mirror “so I can watch you enjoying me.” What a charmer.


-- Natalie Nichols