In an R&B/neo-soul realm dominated by big names with big voices and even bigger eccentricities, where even a figure as mainstream and ubiquitous as R. Kelly is kookier than most outsider artists, hit-songwriter-turned-recording artist Ne-Yo can initially come off as a little bland, just another R&B slickster crooning for the ladies over smooth beats. But Ne-Yo's much-buzzed-about second album, Because Of You, is a real sleeper that reveals considerable strengths upon repeat listens. Like nearly every halfway interesting soul singer, Ne-Yo has been known to channel Prince, most directly and impressively on "Addicted," with its playfully swaggering sexuality, or in the chilly robotic funk of "Sex With My Ex."
"Leaving Tonight" is an ingratiatingly old-school duet with Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, while Jay-Z, who brought Ne-Yo into the Def Jam fold, contributes a nicely nutty verse to "Crazy" (in addition to executive-producing under his "Carter Administration" moniker, which seems all too fitting, given the commercial malaise afflicting most of the Def Jam roster). Best of all, with a running time of just over 59 minutes, Because Of You is largely devoid of filler, and it never threatens to wear out its welcome.