Ah, the spirit of competition! Two R&B gents – one a 32 year-old singer/songwriter and the other a 62-year old established veteran – go head to head to see who wins the title of best R&B album. Why are two artists 30 years apart even squaring off? Great question but beside the point! Both artists chose January 27, 2015 to release their latest studio albums, so both enrolled themselves in this fun, if pointless challenge. Get ready, get set, GO!
1) The Voice
Both R&B musicians have contrasting voices when compared to one another. Ne-Yo has accurately drawn Michael Jackson comparisons, though going so far to say he’s MJ’s equal is a gargantuan overstatement. While Ne-Yo showed remarkable, consistent vocal growth between his debut album In My Own Words and third effort Year of the Gentlemen, Ne-Yo exhibits more of a lighter sound throughout the course of Non-Fiction. He does, however, show more bite and grit on the gospel-tinged “Religious.”
Wilson on the other hand, is definitely a ‘singer’s singer’ – a musician possessing distinctly soulful and robust pipes. Wilson is one of a kind, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone whom he can be directly likened to. Wilson is more of the influencer vocally, hence setting him apart no matter whether the material he sings is incredibly conservative or ‘daring.’
Winner: Charlie Wilson
Wilson, 1, Ne-Yo, 0
Has there ever been an R&B album that lacked love as a central theme? It’s rhetorical! Ne-Yo has plenty of love-centric moments on Non-Fiction, even when some overplay the physical components of the relationship. Sure, “Religious” can be interpreted by spiritually and blasphemously – particularly lyrics like “I love lookin’ at you / in the way God intended us” (read into it) – but the singer/songwriter’s adoration is clear.
For Wilson, let’s just say he’s more automatic than Ne-Yo in this department on Forever Charlie. On “Touched By An Angel” he is smitten with his lady, while on “Favorite Part of You,” he can’t decide just one specific thing that makes his lady awesome. There’s also that joint “Me and You Forever,” which definitely embodies the principles of chivalry.
Winner: Charlie Wilson
Wilson, 2, Ne-Yo, 0
Charlie Wilson can reference the three-letter word, but he’s better at subtlety and innocence when it comes to sex, a trend that continues on Forever Charlie. But think about it, do we really expect a 62-year old man to be singing liberally about a booty call? Of course not! Still on “Infectious” featuring his Snoop Dogg, Wilson does a nice job of being suggestive without overtly stating his intentions.
Ne-Yo on the other hand – who has falling behind Charlie Wilson so far – definitely comes out victorious when it comes to songs filled with sexual innuendo. “Religious” is suggestive, but opener “Run” is an early sensual statement, where Ne-Yo suggests that what his lady has to offer is dangerous (“You better run for your life”). On “Who’s Taking You Home,” it’s obvious that the relationship it’s about to go down, while “Storytime” references a threesome. Charlie Wilson never had a chance in this category – domination by Ne-Yo.
Wilson, 2, Ne-Yo, 1
4) The Material – Songs
Ne-Yo grinds it out for the “W” in the sex category, yet he isn’t nearly as sharp where the material is concerned. Honestly, Shaffer Smith has had better, more dynamic material in his past as nothing on Non-Fiction feels ‘classic.’ That isn’t to say “Money Can’t Buy,” “Religious,” and “She Knows” aren’t solid, but they also aren’t “So Sick,” “Because of You,” or “Closer.”
As for Charlie Wilson, Forever Charlie actually features stronger material than Wilson’s last album, Love, Charlie. That doesn’t mean it’s the ‘second coming,’ but standouts like “Touched By An Angel” and “Favorite Part Of You” rank among Wilson’s best songs during his solo album run. So what does that mean – another ‘W’ for CW!
Winner: Charlie Wilson
Wilson, 3, Ne-Yo, 1
5) Career Outlook: Trending Up or Down?
This is sort of a difficult one. R&B is struggling commercially by all means. Between Ne-Yo and Wilson, Ne-Yo’s album is most likely to gain traction. That said Ne-Yo’s numbers are down considerably from his heyday, which is something considering the singer/songwriter’s young age and the accomplishments of his past. For Wilson, it isn’t expected that he show much sales growth or even say considerable staying power as a solo artist. He has no reason to reinvent the wheel as his claim to fame comes courtesy of his work with The Gap Band. So, you could argue that Wilson’s modest success as a solo artist is a bonus, compared to Ne-Yo’s diminishing success as a pop/R&B artists. Even so, we’ll call this one a draw.
Wilson, 4, Ne-Yo, 2
So when it’s all said and done, Wilson gets the edge in this R&B gents battle. It’s not that Forever Charlie is ‘brand new,’ but it is a consistent R&B album that plays to Wilson’s strengths. Ne-Yo’s effort has it’s moment, but the real Non-Fiction is that it’s by no means his best work.