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.
I have been thinking about Kanye West quite a bit lately. Perhaps because of my favorite November game – attempting to predict the Grammy nominations – and now that they have been announced, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has become the most talked about album, not only because of the nominations it has received, but also those it has evaded (namely, Album of the Year).
What do I like about Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Well, to begin with, it’s a great title. The album not only embodies each descriptor, but holds them in tension with one another. The fantasy often leaves us (and Kanye himself) wondering if he’s bat-poop crazy, yet always in awe of the demented beauty in his stories and sounds. And sights too, if we’ve watched “Runaway”, the accompanying short film that makes use of all but 4 of MBDFT’s songs.
But for now, this is a post about the listening experience, and the album begins with Nicki Minaj quoting(ish) from Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes”, setting MBDTF up as one of those classic, twisted nursery rhymes that we routinely censor and disney-fy. Not that I think we try to child-proof Kanye, but perhaps it’s on this album where he most deeply attempts to come to terms with the person that he feels he truly is, with the person of his celebrity. “Dark Fantasy” kicks off the album with an almost Moby-esque repeated line over piano chords, long before he funnels to the center of his psyche, peaking at “Monster” and then spirals back along a slightly different path, getting “Lost in the Woods” along the way, and finally wondering who can survive America – perhaps the source of his insanity.
Kanye can’t help but offend most people at some point. He certainly would like to. But I appreciate that the shock is rarely for shock value alone; He actually has some really great motivations. The song that is getting the most Grammy attention, “All of the Lights”, is epically full of everything: guest appearances, horns, catchy hooks, and an anthemic sense of greatness. At face value, the song is about Kanye walking in on his girlfriend cheating with someone else, and him wanting to reveal the truth with the brightest lights possible. It may seem hypocritical if he weren’t starkly honest with his own imperfections on tracks like “Runaway” and “The Blame Game”. The whole album is really a call for turning on the lights – to quit hiding what we’re not proud of.
I am finding it difficult to write about Kanye’s Fantasy in a linear fashion, and I wonder if the songs simply aren’t meant to interact with one another that way. We are meant to think of “All of the Lights” during “Hell of Life”, and we are meant to hear “Gorgeous” echoing in our mind when listening to “The Blame Game”. Kanye has provided transitions with intentionality and artistry that is hard to beat – it seems he is following a true and free flow of his own thoughts. The songs and themes feed into one another. Together the songs work at getting to the bottom of what makes Kanye West tick: they explore a mourning of his two greatest role models (his mother and MJ), his experience of celebrity, and his incredibly dysfunctional relationships with all female creatures; They bring some of the best and most eclectic artists in the business together, from Bon Iver to John Legend, to create something even better than Kanye could do by himself (GASP!?); They creatively combine all the things Kanye has done best on his previous 4 albums: the raw, catchy hooks of College Dropout and Late Registration, the dark and epic sense from Graduation, and the experimentation of 808’s and Heartbreak. And I know I could say that he has done all of these things more successfully together on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Let’s rewind to some of the stand-out moments on the album. Because it was leaked early, many of us heard “Power” before anything else, and while it sounds like a political question, there is something personal about it as well. What is the power we have handed over to Kanye himself, or any one person for that matter, why do we do it, and does anyone deserve it? Meanwhile, KWest is not about to let go of any he finds. Even when he offers a confession of sorts in “Runaway”, we know it is a backhanded apology, as it proves that none of us are actually ready to run away from him. He knows he deserves to be dropped, but lets us know on an addictive beat and catchy hook.
Recently for my birthday I was given Blood Bank, The Bon Iver EP from which “Lost in the World” gets its foundation (the song “Woods”). I keep listening to this song, trying to imagine Kanye hearing it and thinking, “I can make that even better”. In its own right, it is hauntingly beautiful. And although I know several haters (or Indie purists?) who will vehemently disagree with me on this, but there is something that Kanye really does add to this track. He seems to have made it his own, and although very different from Bon Iver stylistically, both artists seem to deeply wrestle with and understand the concept of lost in a deep way. For me, “Lost in the World” holds its own more than any other track on the album, and yet every song is given context within this bizarrely personal and introspective Kanye collection. Whatever you think of this egotistically, self-proclaimed workaholic jerk-off, MBDTF is an honest look at a complicated man that at its best calls us to question our own motives and behaviour, and at its worst sounds good. Sounds like a grammy-contender to me.
I’ve been attempting to finish a post on the magnificent Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, 1814 for the past couple weeks, but can’t seem to. I’m sure a large part of the delay is the fact that I’m awaiting a vinyl copy to come in the mail, and want to have listened to it once before finally publishing anything. That’s what you have to look forward to. In the mean time, I’ve been going through a bit of a music funk. I’m tired of almost everything I’ve heard before, but can’t seem to find the energy to listen to anything new.
The one exception has been Adele’s second album, 21. Yes, it’s titled from the age at which she wrote the material, and yes, that throws me off every time considering the emotional depth and maturity that echoes through most of the tracks. I have to admit, this album is growing on me with every listen. As a follow up to 19 I immediately found it disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with “Rolling in the Deep” like everyone else, and was playing and re-posting her performance at the Brit Awards of “Someone Like You” along with the half of facebook. But after my first listen, I felt that the rest of the album couldn’t live up to these two power songs.
I still think they are the strongest on the album along with “Rumour Has It”. Yet at some point I gave the rest of 21 another chance, and this time I imagined that it was a backwards sandwich – the goods at either end with mostly boring essentials in the middle. Eventually it morphed into a Lasagna, where the cheese is still on top, and most of the good juices drip to the bottom, but really, it’s all good. Something tells me I’m hungry…
As I mentioned, 21 begins with a bang. The album is an exploration of a particular breakup, but instead of opening with melancholy, Adele comes out swinging. There is indeed a fire in her heart, and it’s contagious. I guess the first two songs represent the anger stage of the grief cycle. That’s my favorite.
“Turning Tables” jumps back in time to the moment she realizes a breakup is necessary, and although it’s a good song, it has an annoying tendency to get Rihanna’s “Unfaithful” in my head. I’m no Rihanna-hater, but this is really one of her worst. Still, I shouldn’t take out my feelings on Adele; it’s not her fault that Rihanna wrote a catchy tune that talks about being a murderer.
The one song I haven’t changed my mind on is the next: “Don’t You Remember”. Adele, you are so much better than a shmultzy country song. I know every breakup album needs a depression-infused-regret song, but this can not be it. I honestly think I would have enjoyed this album much earlier if this wasn’t included.
And now that we’re past it, I can relax. It gets better from here; it’s a steady increase of good tuneage. “Set Fire to the Rain” is quickly becoming the spicy meat in my Adele sandwich… or lasagna. It’s the ideal Adele instrumentation that starts with piano at the foundation and builds through the verses to create a climax at the chorus with strings and an epic feeling chord progression.
I love the punctuated piano shots of “He Won’t Go”, and I do tend to sing along, so perhaps it’ll still grow on me, but right now I’m mostly excited for the ballads to start. “Take It All” feeds that craving. Pure, soulful Adele-voice, with the tiniest dab of gospel choir. I kind of wish she saved this one until later, because it’s hard to go back to the poppy “I’ll Be Waiting”.
Something about “One and Only” sounds like it should be in Dream Girls (Am I alone in this?). Maybe that’s why I feel like it doesn’t hit as hard as it might be trying to. I do LOVE the bridge, where she gives him a little understanding: “I know it ain’t easy, giving up your heart.” Almost wish it was a song in itself. Then Adele does something I never would have expected. She covers the Cure’s “Lovesong”. I really like this a lot by itself, but I’m still not sure how it goes with everything else. Are we meant to hear that she’s ready to love again, is it denial, or does she actually feel like she’ll love the D-bag forever? I’m a little confused.
I forgive and forget everything that came before as soon as the arpeggios of “Someone Like You” begin. This son makes me melt all over, no matter where I am; I become that dork on the bus with the iPod who closes her eyes super dramatically, and worries everyone around that she might burst into tears, and no one will know what to do. But hey, you try to listen to this tragic tune without controlling your emotional reactions.
Here’s that post I love to share. I have to go cry now, and no, I don’t have time to talk about whatever the bonus track is that came with my iTunes download.