Channeling Al With The Lady Killer

11/10/2010 4:10 AM |

Cee Lo Green
The Lady Killer
(Elektra Records)

What the world wants from Cee Lo Green is obvious, because when he delivers it, everyone freaks out. “Old Fashioned,” a sock-hop soul waltz that comes late in his third solo record, The Lady Killer, stumbles across the platonic ideal well enough while crooning about a certain kind of love: “… it’s right on time, and it’s timeless.” Green’s huge voice, immediately conjuring the other all-time Green, guarantees timelessness. Were he born a few decades earlier, Cee Lo could have been a Motown legend. More important though, is the “right on time” part of that equation. His first big zeitgeist-jacking hit, “Crazy,” benefited immensely from Danger Mouse’s modern, coolly restrained production. This record’s answer, “Fuck You!,” seems more classic in the honey-dripping 60s sound The Smeezingtons production team achieves, but of course, the modernity is right there in the title, and again, key to its success. If you question whether or not the blunt cursing is so crucial, try listening to the impotent radio edit, sigh, “Forget You,” which in a bid to be “appropriate for everyone,” loses almost all of its universality. No one in 2010 (and honestly, probably not even 1964) would see their lost love with a new, more successful replacement and think to themselves, “Forget you!” So, yeah, traditional pop craft with a few nods to the present day, that’s what we want from Cee Lo Green.   

A trickier question is what else can he do? The Lady Killer provides a range of possible answers, none quite as satisfying. Based on scattered Gnarls Barkley evidence, minimal production and martial beats would seem like an interesting foil, but the noir tone of “Bodies” isn’t really that enjoyable. It might be interesting in theory to hear his take on a different era in pop/R&B, but the neon glaze and MJ basslines of “Bright Lights Bigger City” somehow don’t add up to an 80s-worship homerun. When the strings swell, straining to match his voice’s reach like they do on “Wildflower,” it ends up awfully sentimental. He hits his straight-up Al Green sweet spot—warm, conversational, gospel-informed, bursting with talent—enough times to validate the existence of this album beyond its break-out single. Given his crossover pop chops, it’s just sort of frustrating that he doesn’t connect on any fully forward-thinking vibe with any sort of regularity. But it’s hard to know what sort of futuristic aesthetic would even work.