Cee-Lo Green has the kind of voice that's usually referred to as an instrument. Despite the non-stop assault of ear candy, spanning the history of rock and soul music on his new record, The Lady Killer
, it's really all about that voice. When Cee-Lo's pipes are harnessed to strong material, it's an embarrassment of riches that makes you regret how much time you've wasted, listening past the limitations of most singers. But when the song or sensibility doesn't work, he's like a great athlete on a bad team, and wasting that talent feels much worse than if he was an average vocalist.
Cee-Lo's career has already been a success by any measure, first with the Atlanta hip-hop group and Dirty South pioneers, Goodie Mob and then as one half of the daring, Danger Mouse- helmed duo, Gnarls Barkley. But solo, Green has had mixed results. The minute you hear the song "F*ck You," it almost doesn't matter how good the rest of The Lady Killer
is, Cee-Lo has hit the trifecta.
Cee-Lo already has one song-of-the-decade contender under his belt with Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." "F*ck You" is a brilliant burst of obscene pop that's as good, if not better than anything he's ever done. Although his various appearances singing the neutered version, "Forget You," have dampened spirits a little, nothing can squash the sheer joy of hearing it in all its unedited glory. Never in the history of pop music has a song incorporated curse words so seamlessly, and let's hope we all learn from it. One of the reasons "F*ck You" works so well, is that it's a tale of heartbreak and redemption. There's real emotion behind it and when Cee-Lo shows he cares, that's when he and his new album are most successful. But when he's pumping himself up as a "Ladykiller" or singing about "Looking for some action.." in "Bright Lights, Bigger City," a shallow song full of shallow pleasures, the results are less than stellar. The Secret Agent Man pose he strikes in songs like "Bodies," also feels tiresome and sounds like a Gnarls Barkley outtake that wasn't quite strong enough to make the cut.
But the bulk of this album is strong, full of glossy, retro-soul production, great songwriting and of course, that instrument. Spotting references has rarely been so gratifying; more celebration than imitation. Chronologically it goes a little something like this: Jackie Wilson, Levi Stubbs, Bobby Womack, Teddy Pendergrass, Michael Jackson, Prince. Cee-Lo even grabs Phillip Bailey for a cameo on the Earth, Wind and Fire-influenced staccato groover, "Fool For You." "Wildflower," is the second strongest song here, and it mixes the sacred and the profane the way Marvin Gaye used to do so beautifully. "Old Fashioned," takes a walk down doo-wop lane and contains some of Green's most impassioned singing as it fades out. The wild card in all this is Cee-Lo's cover of the Band of Horses gem, "No One's Gonna Love You," which just obliterates the original in the same way Aretha grabbed "Respect" from Otis Redding.
What's next for the talented Mr. Green? Apparently a Goodie Mob reunion, which in a recent interview he said couldn't happen until he succeeded in his solo career. Mission accomplished.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Cee-Lo Green on Myspace