"Year of the Gentleman" (Def Jam) -- 2 stars

Once, Ne-Yo was a dude’s dude. Insofar as is possible for any falsetto-reliant R&B balladeer, he was a bro. He betrayed his inner wag on his sex-crazed second solo album, 2007’s “Because of You,” unabashedly playing the field with no regard for female feelings. When Ghostface Killah needed fraternal solidarity on “Fishscale” single “Back Like That,” Ne-Yo was there to help him admonish his unfaithful paramour (while what Ghost had done was undoubtedly whack, playing him was surely no way to get him back). Plus, long before Elton John ever donned his wacky glasses to shill for Hillary, Ne-Yo was playing Obama fundraisers. The politicking made sense, since Ne-Yo always had an interest in pressing the flesh with the proverbial hos—but more importantly, he always had his bros covered.

But no longer. Don’t be fooled by the title of his latest solo album, “The Year of the Gentleman;” Neo Ne-Yo’s for the ladies.

“She’s so much better than me / I’m so unworthy of her!” goes the lament on “Why Does She Stay.” And while he once wasn’t above telling the ladies to look in their girlfriend’s purses for his number, this song reveals a Ne-Yo who’s wracked with guilt over—no joke—not doing the dishes. “I’ve gotta be a better man for her,” he sobs.

Okay, so he doesn’t sob—but throughout “Gentleman,” it’s clear that Ne-Yo’s feeling a little down, a little vulnerable. On “Lie to Me,” he can’t even stomach the thought of hearing about his lover’s infidelities. “I don’t want to know what I know to be true / What I need you to do / Tell me another lie.” It doesn’t sound like the Ne-Yo of “Back Like That.” Hell, it doesn’t even sound like the Ne-Yo that graciously gave “Irreplaceable” up so Béyonce could trod all over her man (and while we’re at it: c’mon, man, that’s another bro-no!). Maybe his girl’s keeping his man-bits in her handbag.

The production—for which Ne-Yo and Stargate are in large part responsible—could also use some cajones. Closer “Stop the World” is the only track that dares to throw unexpected chord changes in the mix; the rest mostly rely on multi-tracked harmonies and the 808/acoustic guitar schema from “Irreplaceable.” And they’re almost all somnolent, sad-sack ballads, too.

Polow da Don contributes single “Single,” during which Ne-Yo comforts the jilted women of the nightclub. “It don’t matter ’cause you’re here now / And the music you’re enjoying / So for the next couple minutes / Baby I’ma be your boyfriend,” he sings. What a mensch! If he only he weren’t such a lazy writer.

Of course, it’s cool that he wants to make women happy and occasionally empower them; the problem is there’s none of the complexity that made his previous albums surprisingly good. The playful dashes of D’Angelo are gone; the raunchy blemishes are smoothed out, and the album, unfortunately, is boy-band boring.

On “Miss Independent,” Ne-Yo sketches out a workplace dalliance—the video definitely speaks to a bit of sexual harrassment—between himself and a sexily self-actuated co-worker. “She work like the boss / Play like the boss / Car and a crib / She bout to pay ’em both off.” Ne-Yo’s you-go-girl rhetoric sounds patronizing, especially given the womanizing tone his previous albums took, but it permeates the whole album. Maybe he’s genuinely turned on by the fact that his boss has a financial manager.

There was a time when I wanted to throw back some brews and watch football with Ne-Yo, but now it seems like he’d be much more interested in extolling the virtues of hockey moms. In fact, Ne-Yo’s early allegiance to Obama over Clinton seems retroactively unlikely—at any rate, Palin’s extensive leadership experience is probably making McCain look pretty enticing to Ne-Yo right now.

—Reviewer Jake G. Cohen can be reached at