Jay Sean has had a unique trajectory in music thus far. His UK beginnings were punctuated with combining the shimmery R&B flair in the pop scene across the pond, with accents of his Indian roots. His debut album, 2004’s Me Against Myself yielded a handful of overseas hits, while 2008’s My Own Way received lackluster reviews. Still, it was a brick in the path that led to Jay Sean’s crossover into the United States mainstream. 2009’s All Or Nothing was the catalyst that enabled Jay Sean to be an American household name, armed with a hit single (“Down”) and an affiliation to hip-hop powerhouse Cash Money Records. Now, Jay Sean returns with Neon, a work that feels more comfortable for Jay Sean, yet still possessing the potential to move units and bodies.
Working with an “Urban” label could be both a gift and a curse for an aspiring pop star. Cautionary tales like Colby O’Donis prove that even the smoothest crooner could be relegated to a hook (listen to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” for proof). Jay Sean ultimately sticks to a specific formula on Neon and rarely strays. It proves advantageous in the end. Taking a cue from R&B predecessors like Usher and Ne-Yo, Jay Sean brings the arena-slash-EDM sound to his work, starting with the title track. “Neon” is big, bold, anthemic, begging for David Guetta to spin it at the Olympics (or something).
There’s still room for emotion in the midst of synths, as songs like the poppy “Words,” the tickled keys of “Luckiest Man,” and the breathy “Passenger Side” are all about either having love or losing it, never having love, or trying to get love. Like most R&B songs that venture into dance music, the message is muddled deep within the bells and whistles so even when it’s sad, it’s happy. Jay Sean shows off his rap rolodex on high octave “Mars” with Rick Ross, “All On Your Body” with Ace Hood, and completely changes up his style on “Break Of Dawn” with fellow Cash Money men Busta Rhymes and Birdman. It’s a refreshing switch in cadence, one that Jay Sean should explore further. The breezy “Miss Popular” could be a summer anthem, but Jay Sean falls victim to mimicking his muses on several occasions. “Guns And Roses” sounds like he’s been drying his eyes with Usher’s sheet music, and if The-Dream felt at all vindicated by The Weeknd snatching his style, then he should listen to “Sucka For You.” Still, Jay Sean’s vocals are powerful and pop-friendly, clean enough for the kids yet poignant enough for the grown folks.
Neon is perhaps Jay Sean’s most cohesive work, due to its lack of compromise. Every song is arguably a hit, without seeming forced. That’s a huge feat for an artist who spent the first half of his car appeasing one audience and the other half speaking to an entirely different demographic. While his next moves have to be his best moves, Jay Sean has another hit project to add to his arsenal. —Kathy Iandoli