Album review: Cee Lo, “The Lady Killer”

November 29, 2010

"Spontaneity is the spice of life,” Atlanta-born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway, better known as Cee Lo Green, intones at the beginning of his third solo album. “And I’ve indulged quite a bit.”

No kidding. For many, Cee Lo primarily is considered the imposing, slightly threatening, big, bald, whacko with the gorgeous gospel/R&B voice so well employed by his collaborator in Gnarls Barkley, DJ Danger Mouse. That is to say, he’s the dude who sang the runaway smash hit of 2006, “Crazy,” a strong contender for the single of the decade. But for fans who’ve been following the artist since his days in the Goodie Mob, through two chronically overlooked solo albums early in the new millennium (“Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections” and “Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine”), the startling but irresistible burst of invective that was this album’s appetizer, the recent Internet phenom “F--- You,” was no surprise: Cee Lo has long been a talent way too big for any one genre or predefined role to contain.

Some critics have been griping about the lack of focus on “The Lady Killer,” but that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Cee Lo’s charms: He always has been all over the musical map, as well as veering demonically between lyrical extremes. You have to have a special kind of charisma to pull off both the angry rant against a former lover that is “F--- You” (the sentiments of which are all right there in the title) and an unabashed, downright-gushing love song such as “Wildflower” (“Wonderful wildflower/Open up let me see/Sexy hints in seasons/Share your sunshine with me”). And despite what some have said, the indomitable Mr. Green never is overshadowed by his stellar cast of producers (the Smeezingtons, Fraser T. Smith, Grey Area), who craft settings ranging from classic Motown, to Stax/Volt soul, and from bouncy ’60s “James Bond” soundtrack pop, to gritty Solomon Burke blues.

The result is a beginning-to-end maximum-kicks rollercoaster ride, one of the most consistently catchy and thrilling listens of the year, and a standout even amid the recent flood of gonzo, rule-breaking, and generally electrifying hybrid hip-hop/R&B/psychedelic soul stunners from Kid Cudi, Drake, and Janelle Monae.

Cee Lo, “The Lady Killer” - 4 stars (out of 4 stars)

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