This is the world we live in: rapper Kid Cudi spends his sophomore album singing, while singer Justin Bieber has a burgeoning (?) rap career. With so much chaos, we should all gladly welcome the return of Cee-Lo Green. The alternative hip-hopper and Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley member, however, has all but left the rap game aside for this, LP No. 3. From producers like Fraser T. Smith (who has worked with everyone from Keane to Kylie Minogue) to cameos from Phillip Bailey (of Earth, Wind & Fire) and Lauren Bennett, it’s clear that the magic of The Lady Killer, that smooth-talking maniac of Green’s own creation, has unearthed elements of soul and pop for the sake of us all.
Thanks to intro and outro skits playing out like a grindhouse-style James Bond flick, it’s clear that this is all set up to be some wonderful fantasy. Even as fantastic constructs, though, these songs are the realness. He skims the surface of the pop world with a hit like “Fuck You”, produced in part by modern-day crooner Bruno Mars, but that isn’t worth talking about because literally everyone knows it and loves screaming the chorus. Green rehashes Top 40 radio of the ’70s/’80s with the bubbly and bombastic hit “Bright Lights Bigger City”, an ode to the nightlife of a big city with strings, synth, and a beat ripped from Michael Jackson outtakes. These are dynamic examples of the sweetness of the days of old combined with a bit of the ‘tude from today, everything working hand-in-hand to create one-of-a-kind gems.
The aforementioned character that is The Lady Killer is truly a sight to behold. Throughout the album, the lyrical content is full of references to being alone and feeling brokenhearted thanks to the whims of a devil woman he somehow still worships. For example, “Bodies” is a low-key number, the most modern thing on the entire LP, full of a kind of new-age, jazz vibe and some of the finest lines in the album (cut the goosebumps with “they say chivalry is dead/why is her body in my bed?” and “here’s a kiss, sweetheart, it won’t hurt a bit/I can kill it with kindness or murder it”). It’s simultaneously creepy and sensual, and Green kills it (pun intended) with some shimmery, sweaty passion. Even “Love Gun” adds a fairly cartoon-ish, yet equally violent spin to the entire effort, with the cutesy interaction between Green and Bennett barely masking some deep-seeded emotions.
Speaking of deep-seeded, the album’s more interesting points are ones Green has dug up from the annals of pop history and made fresh (but not to the point of over-modernization, as with “Bright Lights Bigger City”). Big and sweeping in its intimate portrayal of love, “Cry Baby” is Green’s most competent turn as a ’60s crooner. It’s melancholy and romantic, and an efficient little creation of old-school magic. There’s a similar kind of appeal in “No One’s Gonna Love You”, a mix of somber groove and orchestral instrumentation that forges a completely heart-breaking, yet totally uplifting love song. Not every track’s like an Al Green special, though; “Wildflower” has a slight country tinge to the sprawling chorus. No matter when he dabbles, Green was a machine built for the olden days, with sensibilities to please even the most historically ignorant.
With this album, Green makes the art of musical preservation seem hip and totally relevant. The whole effort’s heart and soul is in the past, and unlike others who have tried to retrofit their sound, Green comes off like a real student of the game, adding a new chapter to the book of love.