Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Possibly the year’s best R&B record: unmatched soul record by underdog Cee Lo Green delivers all the right moves, lines and turn-ons
After an overnight transformation into a balladeer, Cee Lo Green – the former frontman for the Atlanta-based rap team Goodie Mob – is now embarking a new chapter filled with countless, unpredictable opportunities with his new album The Lady Killer. No one ever imagined Green departing from Dirty South rap to find a successful transition into the hands of alternative rock/pop with Gnarls Barkley, but that was because no one took his voice so seriously. The voice, creamed with an original gritty soul and a David Peaston-fostered timbre, never boils over into the rough, over-the-top squalling-screaming conventions of gospel, but lays somewhere between Curtis Mayfield and…well…David Peaston. That voice, revealed openly on the Grammy-winning “Crazy,” leads us to 2010’s “F*** You.” The viral smash caused the right kind of attention despite its potty-mouth lyrics. But even critics praised just how Green (with co-writer Bruno Mars & the Smeezingtons) designed a tune so blatant into something so entertaining. The critical adulation, along with the melodic Motown punch, transformed the underground sensation into a mainstream enjoyment. It never got the satisfaction from R&B radio (stalling at #62 R&B), but rock radio ate it up (#43) and pop devoured it like an authentic Philly cheesesteak (#17). So what if black folk forsook him and his 2010 hit; Jesus Christ came to his own and his own forsook him too. And Jesus still became a superstar. Need proof? He’s been on Broadway.
Certainly “F*** You” is the obvious attention-getter. Under normal pretense, a song fueled with such F-bombs would led a normal person to believe the song was a violent woman-bashing anthem, but it’s just a man fuming in the heat of the moment over a tough break-up. Job well done, I must add. But the hit isn’t an entire gimmick and it’s not a ploy to suck you into a world of obscure experiments or alternative sounds. Instead “F*** You” is a smart introduction to Green’s organic pop-soul; a concoction that mesmerically blends ’70’s Marvin Gaye romance, ’80’s pop sensibilities and the latest renaissance in retro-revivalism. His team of producers (Fraser T. Smith, the Smeezingtons, Jack Splash, ELEMENT, Salaam Remi) respects his wishes and grooms an album full of extravagant melodies, rich colors and live instrumentation.
Don’t be alarmed by the album title; Green isn’t a madman or a serial killer. Instead, Green takes on the approach of the casanova, the traditional ladies’ man. Just pick up on the hormone-driven Barry White character of radio deejay Oliver “Ladykiller” Biscuit, found in the best-selling video game franchise ‘Grand Theft Auto’. “Lady Killer” dazzled his radio audience with romantic R&B, danceable disco grooves and sultry funk. Green does the same; after setting up the album with 007-inspired prelude using a cautious disclaimer : “When it comes to ladies, I have a license to kill.” But he kills in all the right ways.
The synth-coated “Bright Lights Pretty City” eloquently opens the album, after the 1-minute intro, with upbeat dance pulses. Underneath its lightshow toppings is a delicious framework patterned after Maroon 5 pop-soul. “Love Gun” (not to be confused with Rick James’ 1979 punk-funk buster or KISS’s arena pleaser) sounds like a remix of Melanie Fiona’s “Bang Bang;” all the way down to the inserted gun shots. But the duet with Lauren Bennett, the enhanced ’50’s Columbia jazz horns-and-strings and the Kalimba sounds ends all the rush-to-judgement comparisons. But Green isn’t entirely against sounding like something already concocted. Besides “Bright Lights…” and “Love Gun,” The Lady Killer is a refreshingly new album with sentimental shortcuts into soul and pop music’s scrapbook. “Satisfied” glows like the Four Tops “Baby, I Need Your Lovin'” with an undetectable splice of Prince’s bright pop gem “I Could Never Take the Place Of Your Man.” Green, limiting himself to a lowered vocal baritone, allows the female background vocalists to carry the song into the stratosphere with their Supremes-esque harmonies as they deliver the zesty chorus: “The least I can do is try/I want you to think you’re satisfied/Oh let me satisfy you”. The Earth, Wind & Fire-styled love ballad “Fool For You” features background support from – you guessed it- Phillip Bailey. Motown seasoned offerings “It’s OK” and ‘I Want You” keep the album’s retro glare at a stand still. The latter, boasts a theatrical “bended knee” performance with Green expressing his heartfelt thankfulness to God and his woman (“Oh one world to find a lady/That happens to be three times the lady/God is good/But he took his time when he designed you baby/That’s why I want you”). His pleas are matched with a horn and string arrangement dedicated to Barry White. “Old Fashioned,” decked with Impressions soul and doo-wop swagger, contains a belting segment at the end where Green is in total control of his range. And “Bodies,” echoing some of the sexual goo of Isaac Hayes’ “Joy,” is chilling in its sinister detective drama pacing. The story puts Green in the defendant’s seat as he is accused of luring a one-nighter to his crib: “They said chivalry is dead/Then why is her body in my bed?”
Another strong quality concerning The Lady Killer’s significance takes place at the album’s halfway mark. Just when you think you’ve heard it all and thought – like most albums – it goes downhill from here, the album’s life span is poised at an all-time high. When “Cry Baby,” with moving melodies etched within endless “oooh” harmonizing, “Fool For You” and “It’s OK” blasts for the first time through the speakers, it sounds as if Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It had a second coming.
What easily sets Green apart from the rest in the rat race of today’s R&B, besides him clever re-tooling his style into retro-neo soul, is his voice. That distinctive and highly distinguished vocal, along with his deliberate, restrained ease, gives him an advantage in a genre that’s been so busy lately trying to reduplicate more recent successes. Sure Green will be criticized for being modestly safe and indulging heavily in the retro factory, but his craftsmanship on the classics gets an extra special nod as it cleverly interjects Top 40 spark and relative lyrics into the mix. Just when we thought R&B had been absorbed by dissatisfying filler and less-than-lucrative hip-hop and synth pop, Cee Lo saves the best for last. Even though we had to watch the whole year trickle away for its eventual release, there’s no denying that the wait was well worth it. The content is so good on The Lady Killer that we can wait another year for a follow-up.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 05 November 2010
- Label: Elektra
- Producers: Fraser T. Smith, ELEMENT, The Smeezingtons, Jack Splash, Cee Lo Green, Salaam Remi, Paul Epworth
- Track Favs: Satisfied, Fuck You!, Bright Lights Bigger City, Old Fashioned, Cry Baby, Love Gun, Bodies