A review of Cee-Lo Green’s ‘The Lady Killer’ (2010)
Cee-Lo Green is that maddeningly brilliant, completely left-of-centre genius that only rolls around every few years in a genre. R&B has of course had its fair share of auteur geniuses: off the top of my head, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Bootsy Collins come to mind (and I would be remiss if I didn’t at least wonder if Hendrix belongs in that group, too; I’ve caught myself thinking his best work is more R&B than rock). Lately, new generations of the weird and wonderful have come thick and fast: Cee-Lo Green. Kelis. Janelle Monáe. Wonderful stuff if you care to find it.
Cee-Lo is a great melodist, first and foremost. His melodic invention seems to know few bounds: his stellar work with Danger Mouse in Gnarls Barkley showed that he could craft timeless melodies and lyrics — songs that indelibly embedded themselves in our musical memories, songs that were both the ultimate in radio-friendly pop and serious, funky R&B, at the same time. It’s a classic R&B sound to be sure: more Al Green, less Usher. More Wilson Pickett, less Chris Brown.
And it seems he learned quite a bit from Danger Mouse: his own productions have become more widescreen, more colourful, grander than they were prior to Gnarls Barkley. There’s a greater facility to the flow of the music, a greater ease with which it all comes together sonically. These are also thoroughly modern productions, employing the best technology has to offer (it takes a lot of tech to sound genuinely old).
Cee-Lo is both tied up and set free by his maverick public persona; be-hatted, giant-sunglasses, coats in wild colours, platform boots… Green is much larger than life, at least on stage. But the masquerade cannot possibly match the invention in his music. The Lady Killer is a classic soul album, a vivid technicolor Gesamtkunstwerk that deserves to find a place among the What’s Going Ons and Sing O’ The Times any day.
Like every great record, there are flaws; the (wholly calculated and anticipated) PR debacle of the single “Fuck You” and its inevitable re-casting as “Forget You” for mainstream radio’s faux public decency requirements seems an unfortunately misguided attention-grab. Great song, though.