I have a giant a soft spot for Cee Lo Green.
I have become especially aware of this since the show, The Voice, has returned. While my friends are mostly creeped out by Cee Lo’s evil looking cat (named purrfect), or his tendency to flirt with his female teammates, I am utterly charmed. Not because I am won over by his celebrity, or want to imitate his unique sense of style. I am simply attracted by the fact that Cee Lo Green is a quirky guy who is not afraid to show it, nor is he ever notably threatened by others’ eccentricities. There’s room for everyone’s brand of odd.
However, ironically, I’ve decided to write about his most widely accessible album to date, The Lady Killer, which is intentionally so, as he admits it’s his attempt to broaden his fan-base. To some extent, Cee Lo quiets his eccentricities in order to release some billboard-able singles, and not only did he achieve just that, but created a solid r&b album that sounds both retro-nostalgic and fresh at the same time. Success. The best part is, he doesn’t really put his personality on hold for this record, but casts himself in two hard-to-hate roles as international spy and underdog. Still, even while, as the underdog, he’s singing about pain and frustration, it always comes across as downright playful.
When I first bought this album, it was stuck on repeat for a couple months, but it has been a while since then. I decided to throw it on in anticipation of his new album that’s supposed to drop later this year (along with a Goodie Mob reunion album). This week was the perfect opportunity, since the surprise snow inspired me to bus, and therefore have a bit more time for headphones in my day. Also, I find the regular use of Bari Sax incredibly helpful in cold situations.
So let’s begin at the start, with the slightly creepy “Lady Killer Theme Song”, which sets a very James Bond-esque tone as Cee Lo smoothly warns that “when it comes to ladies…. (he has) a license to kill”. Although “Bright Lights Bigger City” isn’t a perfect transition from the theme, it hangs on to a few Bond-sounding themes, especially violins that sit on high notes before tumbling back down to earth. I don’t know about you, but it gives me an especially espionage-tastic feeling, and I find myself itching for an entourage to escort me downtown for some weekend nightlife. I will wear shades, of course.
There has been plenty said about “F*** You” already, but two things stand out to me as worth risking repetition: First of all, coining “Forget You” as the censored version is some of the most creative censorship in radio-version history. We basically get two songs for the price of one. Secondly, lyrically, the entire thing is built on cursing out an ex that’s treated him badly, and yet it is one of the most confident and fun songs of all time, full of sass and sarcasm. Cee Lo is dancing though his heartache, making “F*** You” an ironically appropriate place for a bit of gospel music. Example number one of Cee Lo’s underdog status as well, building up our sense of sympathy.
“Wildflower” is probably lifted straight out of Cee Lo’s flirting repertoire. He pulls out every stop – horns, strings, piano, and lots of notes held forever. I’m not going to lie, he caught my heart instantly with the line, “sexy is season”. Who can argue with that? He might be a weird, little man, but he takes his job seriously as a professional charmer.
“Bodies” and “Love Gun” are together the album’s primary nod to the never-fully-established 007 theme. After songs of full blown volume and instrumentation, “Bodies” hits us with minimalism, supported primarily by finger snaps, a snare roll, and some muted trumpets. It goes on slightly too long for my taste, and I’m always pleased when “Love Gun” brings us back with gun shots and a little more swagger. I think the best thing about this duet is that, at the point we most expect to hear The Lady Killer himself feature prominently, a female voice (Lauren Bennett) is given space for the first time on the album. The one thing that would highly improve this song is having someone like Janelle Monae du-et. (hehe – sorry I couldn’t resist). I can’t help but think they would make a sweet cat-and-mouse music video together. What’s done is done, but can this collaboration please happen sometime?
The next several songs on this album are super solid. “Satisfied” has some more of that vintage happy-clappy energy, and in un-lady-killer-like fashion, he just wants to satisfy his girl. “I Want You” is most of the time my favorite song on this album. Although he starts out trying to sound like a cool player, he ends up letting everything go for his desire for his woman. The song makes a full circle to the point that he is downright charismatic in his thankfulness to God for his relationship. Also, I think it has to do with the arrangement of horns and strings, but “I Want You” makes me feel as though I should be walking a red carpet instead of cement on Venables St.
“Cry Baby” is another retro-fabulous fun, breakup song that stars not so much Cee Lo, as it does the Bari Sax. Here’s the music video, and yes, that is Jaleel White from family matters, looking like a character somewhere between Steve Urkel and Stephan Urquelle. I mostly just want to dance with them.
“Fool for You” (which brought home the best R&B song Grammy this year) has a truly classic R&B feel and sound, and features regularly smooth transitions between the punchy, beat-driven verses and the chorus which hangs on the vocals and drops all percussion with the exception of some cymbal brushes. At this point I’m wondering which is the act: is Cee Lo the Lady Killer, who pretends vulnerability to lure his prey, or is he an underdog dressing up to convince himself. Either way, he has become a man of mystery.
“It’s OK” sounds to me like the little brother of “F*** You”. It has the same, dance-through-the-pain kind of attitude and groove, but is less in the anger stage of grief, and more in the acceptance stage. They say grief is less linear and more like a spiral, so I suppose Cee Lo is in the midst of a healthy recovery from rejection. In other news, “It’s OK” has the least viral, but possibly best video of Lady Killer.
“Old Fashioned” is true to its name, harkening back to a 50’s ballad with soul and class. Oddly, it pairs well with the indie Band of Horses cover, “No One’s Gonna Love You Like I Do”. In songs, the album ends on a mellow, slightly reflective and certainly heartbroken tone, which is why I feel the return to the loud and obnoxious “Lady Killer Theme” sounds terribly out of place. But perhaps it is meant to draw attention to the juxtaposition of Cee Lo’s underdog status with his lady-killer persona. In the end, it’s all about winning over the ladies. As a follow up to his last solo record in 2004, Lady Killer might as well been titled Cee Lo Green is a Charm Machine.