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Album review: Cee-Lo Green, "Lady Killer"

By Bill Friskics-Warren

cee-loCee-Lo Green, seen here performing with Goodie Mob in 2009, shapeshifts with success yet again. (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

One of contemporary pop's great changelings, Cee-Lo Green has a rare knack for assuming a variety of guises while always managing to sound like his endearing, larger-than-life self. He was easily the most unmistakable voice in the '90s Dirty South rap collective Goodie Mob before reinventing himself as a shamanic neo-soul philosopher on two terrific solo albums and breaking through big-time as the helium-throated frontman of the Grammy-winning Gnarls Barkley.

On his own again with "The Lady Killer," he's back in yet another incarnation -- that of a lovable lothario, an alternately winking and heartfelt cross between a vintage Mack Daddy and vintage James Bond. The 007 vibe is strongest on the spy-movie instrumentals that open and close the album, as well as on "Love Gun," a paean to our hero's sexual prowess featuring campy byplay with soul shouter Lauren Bennett. "He's a hunter now I see/I wonder how long he's been watching me/Doesn't miss where he takes aim/Cock back the hammer and bang," moans Bennett, making like the salacious second coming of Bond diva Shirley Bassey.

The rest of the album offers some of the most ebullient pop this side of old-school hit-machines ranging from Holland-Dozier-Holland to Gamble and Huff. "Satisfied" is shimmering, neo-Motown shing-a-ling propelled by headlong rhythms, double-dutch handclaps and honking baritone sax. "Cry Baby" also features bari sax, along with swirling strings, hooky choruses and mile-wide grooves.

"[Expletive] You," the single that went viral on YouTube in August, is powered by gospel piano, ecstatic background voices and down-home funk guitar. "Yeah I'm sorry, I can't afford a Ferrari/But that don't mean I can't get you there," Cee-Lo scoffs at the woman who's slipping away from him. Breaking up never sounded easier -- or as exhilarating -- to do.

And never has Cee-Lo worked so consistently in crooner mode, all but abandoning his at times cartoonish squawking for lush, rounded tones in both his normal and falsetto registers. He's flashed such chops before, but here he makes a sustained case for his bona fides as a singer's singer. On "Old Fashioned," an echo-laden ballad set to gently pressing triplets, his pliant tenor soars and swoons, reverberating with the misty magic of an old doo-wop 45. He also stretches vocally on "I Want You," an outpouring of unabashed romanticism sprinkled with disco glitter, and on "Bodies," an atmospheric requiem for the death of chivalry, replete with funereal drum rolls. "Fool for You," an aching ballad, teams him with another falsetto wonder, Earth Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey.

It's hard, at this stage of his career, to imagine Cee-Lo making a false move. His fertile imagination, coupled with the palpable relish with which he throws himself into each project, makes everything he does worth hearing. His refusal to repeat himself bespeaks a commitment to both the creative process and his audience that is worthy of the restless -- and heady -- likes of Prince and Bob Dylan, Madonna and Kanye West.

Recommended tracks: "Satisfied," "Old Fashioned, "Love Gun"

By Bill Friskics-Warren  | November 9, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags:  Cee-Lo Green  
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