Ne-Yo — “So Sick”

Released: 1.24.06

Peak: #1

It’s not entirely true to say Staffer Chimere Smith brought sensitivity back to male R&B. Usher and his lesser narcissists were plenty sensitive, each a veritable princeling left to toss and turn till dawn because of the pea he dreamt some wanton hoe had placed under the mattress of his self-esteem. Even R. Kelly needed a hug. But sensitivity toward others, especially female others, is a different story. Ne-Yo spared a thought for the ladies he sang about, even when they tormented him. At the very least, he sang like a decent guy who’d rather not obsess over his own heartbreak.

Norwegian production team Stargate (Mikkel S. Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen) manufactured the music for “So Sick” — that harp softening the mix, that guitar wobbling around the melody. But Ne-Yo’s relaxed soul was essential to its success, presenting a good guy’s struggle to keep himself together rather than some melismatic fool’s need to clobber you about the ears with his pain. That voice is certainly how he got away with a hit called “Sexy Love” and even (almost) with “When You’re Mad” (about how “you’re so sexy” then, which I guess is a half-step up from “you’re so cute”). In an age of more distinctive vocal talents, Ne-Yo might have been as marginal as a Gregory Abbott. In a world of Chris Browns, he was a distinct (if distant) heir to Michael, though his full indebtedness didn’t manifest till later.

As a lyricist, Ne-Yo is a pro to a fault, knowing just how to illustrate his conceit. He refuses to re-record his answering machine message because he replays her voice saying, “We/ Can’t come to the phone,” that line break italicizing the lost second-person. He leaves the calendar on the month of their anniversary. And, of course, there’s the chorus disgust with “love songs” and helpless plaint: “Why can’t I turn off the radio?” Because he loves the pain, of course. We know that because we’ve heard this song before, and recognize the repetitive frustration of heartache — every time the same, every time unshakeable.

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  • NIK-KAT  On October 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    all too true. now if only there was a decent song attached to all his carefully prepared/produced plaints, all would be just swell.

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