There was Cee-Lo Green at this year’s Soul Train Awards, moving to and fro in a shimmering gold jumpsuit as his heartbreaking smash hit bellowed throughout the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta. In a way, the peculiar performance epitomized the former Goodie MoB frontman, as an artist who’s maintained a solid career by living on his own planet. The evangelistic presentation — complete with gold-painted human statues — also solidified Green’s position as a musical chameleon with a Midas touch, no matter how strange the formula looks on paper.
Take “Fuck You!” for instance, a greasy kiss-off which defies the perception that popular soul tracks can’t be substantially filthy. Then again, this is Cee-Lo Green we’re talking about, the unmistakable voice that helped you “git up, git out and git somethin,” while embracing your inner closet freak. It’s also the same person who can easily leapfrog from rap, to bouncy alternative rock and gospel chords, without sounding forced or conflicted. On his third solo album, The Lady Killer, Cee-Lo travels the same road as Raphael Saadiq, driving the Delorean back to the 1960s era of soul on this efficient offering, while honoring the unconventional qualities for which he is known. Ultimately, The Lady Killer is respectable, buckling somewhat under the success of “Fuck You!”, while packing enough punch to satisfy listeners — old and new.
Looking into his career thus far, The Lady Killer seems to be a natural progression for Cee-Lo Green. Prior to his departure from the aforementioned Goodie MoB, he often stood out as the go-to guy for rousing hooks and blackout verses (just look up “I Refuse Limitation” and “Decisions, Decisions” for confirmation). Therefore, his 2002 debut, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections was a frenzied and schizophrenic look into the mind of a person looking to compress his jazz, hip-hop and funk influences into one recording. The result was a polarizing record that resonated with the alternative crowd, and alienated Cee-Lo’s rap fans. Two years later, the Southern performer still didn’t feel like rapping on Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine, and his soul renditions seemed more focused on commercial success than timelessness.
The Lady Killer effectively blends his previous solo works, and those with Gnarls Barkley, with a retro aesthetic and sleek success not realized before. Efficiency aside, Cee-Lo still finds time to flirt with ’80s synths on “Bright Lights Bigger City”, which celebrates Saturday night on the town, and James Bond fantasies on “Please”, featuring Belgian musician Selah Sue. He even finds time to mock his so-called “lady killer” moniker on the haunting “Bodies”, with its cascading drums and sporadic bass. “They said that chivalry is dead/Then why is her body in my bed,” Cee-Lo sings on the hook. All told, Green’s newest project is a direct reflection of his personality. Sure, his music is restless and eccentric, and you don’t quite know how to classify it. But that doesn’t stop you from diving in to analyze its contents. Maybe that’s why they call it “soul” music.