Once in a while, talent is actually enough to succeed. Ryan Leslie [click to read] may not have gotten the machine push that fellow songwriters/singers like Ne-Yo [click to read] and The-Dream [click to read] have, but work ethic, talent and placements with staples like Beyonce and Donell Jones have made him a contender. After several compilations that leaked onto the net in years prior, his self-titled debut garnered critical acclaim with hits February 2009 release. Ever the workhorse, nine months later he hits stores with Transition, an album inspired by a “secret summer love.” And just like minimal seasonal flings, Leslie’s sophomore disc is an inconsistent effort with a few highlights that are memorable for years to come.
The biggest talent Leslie displays on Transition is his production and arrangement abilities. His synthy, layered soundbeds keep the disc flowing for nearly its entire 45-minute playtime. The slinky dives that close out “Never Break Up” are audible bliss, while the complex “Nothing” executes several change-ups by pairing his reliable synths with strings and keys. When such production is paired with worthy lyrics and execution, the results are exceptional. Lead single “You’re Not My Girl” [click to listen] sees Leslie serenading a woman while reminding her about a lack of commitment, while ballad “Guardian Angel” utilizes a comparatively sparse backdrop for him to express his appreciation to a loved one.
But Leslie’s other skills are inconsistent. Previously, his raps were slick and clean—just as an R&B singer’s raps should be. Transition is littered with lines like, “I could tell she was into me / When I pulled up in the black on black Bent-e-ly” and “Just like Santa, hope you been a good girl / If I had you, give you everything I could, girl.” Even some of the technically sound lyrics lack conviction. And while the K.I.S.S.—“keep it simple, stupid”—approach to songwriting works for some, it feels underwhelming for Leslie’s dynamic beats and his complex capabilities. “Zodiac” is no different from any other song about astrology-fueled romance, and despite a streamlined beat and solid cameo verse from Pusha T [click to read], trite bars from Leslie hold "Something I Like" back from excellence.
Fortunately, Transition minimizes its faults. By being a short 45 minutes in playtime and serving as a rushed follow-up to his stellar debut, the album truly does feel like a mere stepping stone to his next project. Treat Transition as a intermediary EP. It's a freeze-dried, '80s baby's Here, My Dear —and enjoy its good moments along with 2009’s other Ryan Leslie contributions, and sit tight.