November 11, 2010

Test Spins: Cee-Lo Green

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“I’m often asked what it is I do for a living, and my answer: I do what I want.” By opening his new album, The Lady Killer, with this claim, Cee-Lo Green reiterates something that fans of his work with Gnarls Barkley should realize as quite obvious: He is the last person to care about musical trends. He is hardly a candidate for auto-tuning, and it’d be silly to think he would lend his helium voice to a dubstep track.

Since the early 2000s, Green has been peddling his Outkast-referencing, neo-soul stylings to much commercial and critical aplomb, mixing futuristic timbres with old school vibes that attract younger listeners while also bringing an older crowd that’s appreciative of his nostalgia trips. While smash single “Fuck You” has landed on every person’s ears, it doesn’t change the formula.

Alas, Lady Killer is not so much about expanding as it is about refining. Opener “The Lady Killer Theme (Intro)” is Green’s version of a Bond Theme, with a spoken intro launching into an exhilarating b-section with a brass-embellished, funky variation on “Misirlou.” Green’s mastery of 21st century funk-disco is evident, with the swirling strings of “Bright Lights, Bigger City” and the rattling drums of “Bodies.” Other songs sound like updates of classic Motown, like the yearning “I Want You” and the wall-of-sound production of “Wildflower.” Cee-Lo’s voice, perfect for classic R&B, especially on the ballad “Old Fashioned.” Second single “It’s Okay” has the potential to prolong Green’s prominence, though it lacks the novelty of “Fuck You.”

Despite the well-written songs, the album feels a little too safe. It’s the album everyone expected Cee-Lo Green to make, which is far from a bad thing, but mildly underwhelming. While he may never be part of a full length as enjoyable as St. Elsewhere, Green can console himself with this gorgeously produced record (seriously, the army of producers who worked on the record made sure everything could be heard crystal clear) featuring what could possibly be the year’s best sing-along.

B

Original Author: James Rainis