Cee Lo Green
The Lady Killer
Label: Elektra Records
Cee Lo Green, the Soul Machine, is cooler than me, you or anyone we know. This is not a reflection on any of us (not even your lamer friends), simply a statement of fact supported by Green’s career. The most prominent member of Dirty South rap legends Goodie Mob, the vocalist segued into a solo career that made the most of his raspy, soulful croon, only to find even greater commercial success as a duo with producer Danger Mouse. Their collaboration, Gnarls Barkley, produced the ubiquitous, creepy “Crazy” and at last brought Green’s unique voice to the mainstream, if not his name. If his third proper solo album, The Lady Killer, doesn’t make him a full-fledged pop star, there’s nothing in this world that could make the masses listen.
The Lady Killer presents itself as a throwback, a neo-soul album inflected with R&B touches, drawing from the poppy beats of ’60s Motown and more than a little bit of the epic grandeur of Isaac Hayes’ ’70s heyday. While this is accurate, there’s more than a few flashes of modernity to belie that impression; synths are in heavy use (particularly in the glorious “Bright Lights Bigger City”) and the strident beats and gunshot percussion of “Love Gun.” This dichotomy may be in part related to the multitude of producers on The Lady Killer, a full six production teams most heavily represented by Fraser T. Smith. Smith seems most responsible for the retro sound (if not the image) that dominates the album, while the Smeezingtons can claim first single and viral smash “Fuck You.”
And how about that single, huh? Certainly only in the age of YouTube could such a joyfully nasty, bald-faced kiss-off song be a smash, particularly with lyrics like “I guess the change in my pocket wasn’t enough/ I’m like, fuck you and fuck her too.” It’s the simple glee with which Green castigates a former lover, her current lover and her money-grubbing ways that hooks the song (although the immensely catchy beat doesn’t hurt); the singer’s ability to radiate anger, despair and catharsis in under a four-minute stretch guarantees it as one of the most memorable songs of his entire career.
The album opens with a brief, spoken word bit, “The Lady Killer Theme,” in which Green lays down the law; he does “what he wants” and when it comes to the ladies, he has “a license to kill.” Green plays it so straight that it’s easy to discount the playfulness, but if the James Bond-worthy chaos of orchestral strings that follows doesn’t clue you in, you might want to check your sense of humor for signs of life. The aforementioned “Bright Lights Bigger City” follows, snaking around a beat that’s half Donald Dunn and half “Billie Jean,” Green exulting in a familiar Friday night sensation of freedom. The one-two romantic punch of “Satisfied” and “I Want You” cement the lover-man aspect of Green’s album persona, the former a tender reinforcement of affection and the second a nearly desperate plea for love. The one track that doesn’t seem to quite gel is unfortunately the only cover, Band of Horses’ “Nobody’s Gonna Love You;” Green’s slowed down R&B take works within the context of The Lady Killer, but can’t quite match the transcendence of the original nor takes it in an unusual enough direction to completely distance it.
However, one slightly-off track is no shame for an album that’s quite nearly perfect, a spirited and even melancholy play through the fields of smooth soul. Neither Cee Lo or his magnificent voice show no sign of getting any less awesome with time. Just the opposite.