British-Asian pop and contemporary R&B artist Jay Sean continues to struggle to find an artistic identity stateside on his fourth studio album, Neon.
Okay here’s the deal. British-Asian pop/R&B artist Jay Sean has never really established commercial grounding in the U.S. Yes, “Down” was a no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, but his debut album stateside (third overall), All or Nothing was no hit. There was nothing wrong with the album ultimately, but it didn’t establish him as a star. When single “Mars” arrived ahead of Neon, there seemed to be potential that this album could be the statement Jay Sean needed to make. Unfortunately, after listening to Neon, one quickly sees it’s a mixed bag where the singer struggles to settle into a specific identity. That’s a bummer for an artist who could make more bread breaking into a new market.
The first part of the album is very pop-centric, a bit surprising considering the sound R&B moments that graced All or Nothing. Title track “Neon” off-puts with its initial acoustic pop sound, driven by acoustic guitar. Vocally, Jay Sean exploits his lower register, something also unexpected. Once the chorus hits, elements of modern pop enter, giving more flavor and oomph. Towards the end, Jay Sean also ignites, delivering on capable, soulful ad libs. Ultimately though, “Neon” gets off to a slow start. “Neon” is only one of a couple of ‘lukewarm’ numbers. “Luckiest Man” has a bit more oomph compared to “Neon”, but still ends up being a bit middling. The piano ostinato at the onset is a road tread millions of times of times over, which does nothing to curb predictability.
“Words” also opens ‘tried and true’ with a combo of piano and acoustic guitar. Thankfully, a slightly meatier sound ensues on the verse, but still isn’t enough to propel the record to the next level. Jay Sean does ‘bring it on home’ vocally and melodically, and the verses are nice. “Where You Are” arrives timely to give the set a much-needed boost. It’s a ‘been there done that too’, but more enjoyable. The chorus songwriting shines:
“And I can’t help it, I gotta be where you are / Like the sky holding the stars / Like the strings on my guitar / I wanna be where you are / Like the sand that’s on the beach / Like a model in a magazine / It don’t mean a thing if we’re apart / I wanna be where you are…”
“Guns N Roses”
“Guns N Roses” still maintains a pop-oriented sound but is anchored by an urban contemporary beat. Like the opening trio, it’s good enough without being ‘great.’ Great follows with the album’s best cut, “Mars.” Why is “Mars” so good? Because it seems to fit the R&B sound of 2013 an it sounds like a better fit for Jay Sean as far as establishing an artistic identity. For whatever reason, getting ‘high’ is urban music’s new favorite trend and “Mars” fits the stoner vibe perfectly.
“I’m so high / I’m wasted, I don’t wanna come down / Let me take you to Mars girl / We’ll make love on a star girl…”
Yeah, that’s some serious trees Jay has been smoking. Oh, and as for Rick Ross, he’s right at home guesting on the third verse.
“Miss Popular” has a tough act following the crowning achievement of Neon but does okay. The best moments are when Jay Sean flaunts his falsetto. Also, he keeps the urban flare alive. “Close To You” has the potential to be a better cut than it is. The main rub is that it never percolates to the level that it could; the expected build-up of emotion never quite arrives. Nothing wrong with being safe, but still… Well, at least his girl is “like an animal”:
“I know what you plan to do girl / You’re just like an animal / So just do what’s so natural to you / ‘Cause you don’t know how many times I’ve been thinking about you.”
“Deep End” is a slickly produced contemporary R&B cut with electronic, synthesized ideas. If only it were as electrifying as its soundscape, sigh. It ends up being predictable with a lack of energy. “Worth It All” only proves slightly better, with ‘middle of the road’ proving an appropriate description.
“Yeah we gonna fight, yeah we gonna fall / If we gonna go through it all / And you might cry and we won’t talk / Let me ride back to the start / And I’m lost in your kiss / And the world don’t exist / But I know deep down in my heart / We’re worth it all…”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blasé. Then, magically, things ‘turn up’ some. Jay Sean gets the potty mouth going (f-bomb and sexual atonement) and “Passenger Side” has a cool, hip vibe. If little else earned Jay Sean an parental advisory sticker, “Passenger Side” is easily the culprit. Like “Mars,” the moody R&B production is a win-win. He can’t keep it up, though. “All on Your Body” also nicely fits modern R&B/hip-hop circles as far as sound, but a ‘nasty’ groove and guest spot from Ace Hood only goes so far. The track could’ve used more development. “Break of Dawn,” featuring Busta Rhymes, is a true misstep. Generic as things come, this is the kind of cut you go ‘so what?’ upon listening to it. Unfortunately, “Sucka for You” can’t carry the weight of trying to fix the mistake, suffering from its own mediocrity. But, it gets a pass for the lyric, “I’m a sucker for the devil in you.”
Ultimately, Neon is average. The majority of the 14 tracks are respectable with only the last couple feeling like truly undercooked filler. The main quibble is that Jay Sean really does little to further develop himself. The album lacks cohesiveness. Is he trying to be a conservative pop star or a bold, edgy R&B artist who needs his swear words to make him relevant? That’s the question. He’s at his best on cuts like “Where You Are”, “Mars,” and “Passenger Side”. Overall, a mixed bag with some good, many average, and a few great cuts. He definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
Gems: “Where You Are,” “Mars” & “Passenger Side”