LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - As he prepares to release his third album in as many years, R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo says he is “a little bored” with urban music.
The genre has served him well, to be sure. His first two albums have both been certified platinum, and he has co-written such monster hits as Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” which spent 10 weeks atop the Hot 100 singles chart in 2006.
But “Year of the Gentleman,” due June 24 from Def Jam, finds the 28-year-old Arkansas native -- real name Shaffer Smith -- venturing into “more worldly” territory.
“There’s some stuff on there that sounds like something the Beatles might’ve done,” Ne-Yo told Billboard. “There’s some stuff on there that sounds like something Billy Joel might’ve done. I can’t do just straight urban music no more, because to be completely honest with you, I‘m a little bored with it. I‘m just moving with what music excites me now.”
An early preview does indeed indicate something a little different from traditional R&B: “Closer” is a Stargate-produced club track with pulsing strobe-light synths and a high-energy house beat that calls to mind Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.”
“So You Can Cry” sports a mellow, easy-listening vibe, with Ne-Yo making a priceless rhyme of “pity party” and “calamari.” Guitars and cymbals figure prominently in “What’s the Matter,” which Ne-Yo likens to “a Beatles-style rock record.”
But will the little girls understand? Def Jam wants to expand Ne-Yo’s audience beyond its core of 16- to 24-year-old females.
“The records he’s written don’t just speak to young black girls,” says Ashaunna Ayars, Def Jam’s VP of marketing. “We’re trying to build an adult audience that appreciates his music as well.”
Part of the strategy involves Ne-Yo opening for Alicia Keys on her two-month North American tour, which begins Saturday in Hampton, Va.
“That partnership gets him in front of the more mature fan base we’re after,” Ayars says.
But Ne-Yo is anxious about overdoing the stylistic experimentation.
“My worry is that I’ll do something that’s so far left of what I’ve already done that it’s going to go over my fans’ heads. I pray that my fans are smarter than that.”
And he hopes they will understand that if he keeps writing songs like “So Sick” or “Sexy Love” or “Because of You,” both he and they will eventually get bored.
“So Sick” -- a song that slyly predicted its own inescapability on the radio -- reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was drawn from his 2006 debut “In My Own Words,” which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. His follow-up, “Because of You,” has sold 935,000 copies since its release last May.
He says he always envisaged the third album would mark a musical departure, and was expecting “to chill for a minute and really take some time to figure out what I wanted that to be. Fortunately, it didn’t take me that long, which is why the album’s coming out now.”