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Because of You (Def Jam)



For those too young to understand the goal of Ne-Yo's sophomore album, the head of his label decided to make the point explicit. But when Jay-Z insists that on "Crazy," Ne-Yo is a "young Michael [Jackson]," it sparks an interesting debate: Not only did no one seize Jacko's pop throne after he abdicated it in the early '90s, but no one has even had the desire to try -- until recently, that is. But thus far, the would-be contenders have been lightweights like Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke.

Ne-Yo is a different story. In My Own Words, his ballad-heavy debut from last year, showcased an artist who could write as well as croon. And now, Because of You makes his case via the dance floor. The ebullient title song deliberately evokes Off the Wall, while the synth-heavy "Sex With My Ex" takes its cues from the only dude Jackson could've called his equal: Prince. However, without a standout slow jam like 2006's "So Sick," the overall effect is slightly less immediate than before -- but that doesn't mean Hova will be wrong in the long run.

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