Album Review: Cee-Lo Green - The Lady Killer (Elektra/Warner Bros)
Swearing aside, a genuinely smooth pop record that leaves us wishing he’d kept some grit from the old days
But then Cee-Lo’s always worked best in the shadows. While his contemporaries Outkast pushed boundaries and received plaudits thanks to their ear for a pop hook, Cee-Lo was busy in the sidelines working on some ‘Dirty South’ music with Goodie Mob (of which he was ?a member from 1995-98). In the process, he not only helped name ?an aspect of his and Outkast’s idiosyncratic style of Atlanta, Georgia hip-pop, but coined the term that would define the late ’90s and early ’00s: southern hip-hop, where Timbaland/Missy Elliott, Outkast and N.E.R.D/Neptunes became the region’s first global success stories.
‘Crazy’ aside, it’s taken over 20 years for Cee-Lo to come up with a true solo hit that ruled the charts. As anyone with access to YouTube will know, it appears that all he needed was a soulful voice and repeated swearing set to a jaunty tune. The resulting ‘Fuck You’ to an ex-girlfriend and her new lover is a kiss-off song in the best tradition; and the biggest pop hit the South’s had since Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya!’.
So it seems that Cee-Lo’s learned something from his pop excursions with Gnarls. At 14 tracks, ‘The Lady Killer’ is by far his most focused solo album, ditching genre-hopping schizophrenia to embrace cinematic tropes. But, from the noir-ish spoken-word intro (in which he deems his name “not important” and assures us he’s “certainly not lawless”; canny remarks from a man presumably aware that the public may soon want to find out more about his street violence past); to ’70s cop show instrumental bursts; expansive string arrangements; and even a loose storyline, ?‘The Lady Killer’ doesn’t quite match the ‘perfect imperfections’ of Cee-Lo’s gleefully unhinged past efforts.
Smoothing the edges includes all but eschewing his machine-gun-paced, helium-pitched rap flow in favour of largely playing the straight soul singer; yet Cee-Lo the character remains as odd as he has been on albums ?that, in the past, have mixed spirituality with unbridled anger and joyous proclamations of being a “closet freak”. Here he explores male/female relationships in ?a way that roughly plays out as follows: goes partying (the Miami Vice synth-pop of ‘Bright Lights Bigger City’); swears at ex; gets new girl (‘Wildflower'’); dumps new girl (‘Cry Baby’); finds a wrong ’un who fools him around (‘Fool For You’); returns to first girl (‘Old Fashioned’).
It’s all flawless in a string-laden soul way, but too clean an effort from a man who, in the past, has been so much more exciting by letting the grit remain. Only on ‘Cry Baby’ do we get some real darkness when a roving-eye Cee-Lo dumps his girlfriend before playing the victim himself. It’s hard to sympathise with, but at least shows that, from a man who spends a large part of the album proclaiming love and being the good guy, his flaws still remain; he just may find that there’s no way of making them translate into pop sales. But which is crazier: to continue to try and ignore those unglossy imperfections, or to return to the shadows?
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