Review Summary: A magnetic blend of old-fashioned songcraft paired with expertly conceived, modern production makes Cee-Lo's latest offering into a wholly satisfying feast of retro-soul hits.
Not until recently has Cee-Lo Green been regarded as a rightfully recognizable singer. Four years ago he achieved success forming Gnarls Barkley along with producer Danger Mouse when their groundbreaking urban pop album "St. Elsewhere" was released. Not many know that long before that Green (born Thomas Callaway) was a member of a breakthrough Southern hip-hop act, Goodie Mob as well as made a valid attempt at becoming a nu-soul extraordinaire with his critically acclaimed 2002 debut solo outing entitled "Cee-Lo Green And His Perfect Imperfections." This album and to a lesser extent its follower; which presented a wicked blend of soul, funk, hip-hop, jazz and rock; seemed too ahead of its time to gain mainstream popularity.
"The Lady Killer" is a completely different record with Cee-Lo abandoning his wild "Closet Freak" sensibilities in favor of far less bombastic and more accessible old soul. An already 36-year-old artist overtly proclaimed: "For too long I've been underground and underdog. This should not be a kamikaze mission." And it certainly is not. Although infectiously energetic funk and skillfully crafted, often politically-charged hip-hop deliveries are long gone, "The Lady Killer" works as a legitimately fun pop album that effectively showcases the most mainstream-oriented Cee-Lo's work to date. From the musical standpoint, the record can be described as an adventurous foray into retro-soul and Motown years paired with elaborately orchestrated passages that tend to resemble imaginary Bond theme songs. The songcraft might be purposefully vintage, yet the production remains up-to-date combining the old with the new in a cohesive manner. It was not easy to accomplish as the album was produced by numerous musicians who specialize in a wide variety of genres.
The task of attracting the wide audience has been already accomplished with the first single off the disc. As controversial as it might be to some, "*** You" is most certainly the most playful song about the bitterness of break-up ever created. With its top-notch catchy as hell songwriting and absolutely genius lyrics ("I guess he's an xbox and I'm more atari") it comes as the definite standout track. The album is far from being one trick pony though encompassing plenty of musical moods. Driven by an expertly conceieved interplay between atmospheric synths and cinematic orchestration "Bright Lights Bigger City" is an ideal party song, while "Bodies" recalls the dark stylings of the second Gnarls Barkley album with its minimalistic approach, jazzy trumpets and contrastively emotive vocal delivery. Moreover, "Love Gun" is a sexually charged duo with Lauren Bennett that perfectly addresses the murderous title of the disc.
In general, "The Lady Killer" is filled with potential smash hits due to the sense of melody being omnipresent on the entire record. For instance, "Satisfied" comes as an immediate candidate for a hit thanks to its light, exuberent tone paired with a playful chorus that feels like being sung by the 1950s Motown girl band. On the other side of the spectrum, there is fantastically upbeat funk of "Fool For You" featuring Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire fame. The album finishes with the two heartfelt ballads resembling the likes of the great Southern soul stylists Solomon Burke and O.V. Wright. Aptly titled "Old Fashioned" comes as both genuine and tender with Green soulful delivery: "My love's old fashioned, but it still works the way it is," whereas Band Of Horses' cover "No One's Gonna Love You" is an icing on the cake packing an emotional wallop with its sad, sorrowful melody. Arguably these tracks exemplify Cee-Lo's impressive vocal skills the most clearly.
Overall, while "The Lady Killer" feels rather restrained in comaprison to Green's earlier solo offerings, this is an excellent disc on its own retro-soul merits. It consists of more than a handful of superbly produced hit songs that will deservedly break Green out into the mainstream. It's one of these rare albums on which the singer doesn't lose his artistic integrity by recording more conventional music. Cee-Lo Green is one of a kind; it's high time the world took notice.