The Lady Killer Cee Lo Green (Elektra/Warner)
This record was huge weeks before it appeared, thanks to the very direct kiss-off single that's been ricocheting across radio and the Internet since the summer. Like Crazy, Cee Lo Green's 2006 hit as the burly, steely-voiced half of Gnarls Barkley, the new single, with its profane title (later released as a more kid-friendly Forget You),has thrown a spotlight on a singer who has a way of making you feel uneasy even as you hit the replay button.
Listen to the later single's bridge, which seems to turn a full 180 against the breezy unconcern of the verses and chorus. Suddenly he's no longer flipping the bird, he's bawling out his agonized love for the woman who spurned him. It's almost pathetic - but is it real, even as a narrative device? It's so extreme, you're not really sure; but here comes that chorus again, and once again he's blowing off that gold-digger and her new guy, and it feels great.
In many ways, as the album's other tracks confirm, Green is a real R&B traditionalist. A diverse posse of co-writers and producers, including Bruno Mars, Salaam Remi, Jack Splash and Rick Nowels, can scarcely budge Green's allegiance to classic R&B song forms and arrangements, with their frisky horns, muscular bass lines and somnolent strings. His themes aren't out of the ordinary either: He wants love, or wants to prove he doesn't really need it. But again and againhe dares you to ask where the "real" thing stops and the parody begins. There's a touch of the postmodern clown about Cee Lo Green, whose tears often seem to be painted on his face.
The album's overall concept is played at first in the old-fashioned way, with an intro that casts Green as a rounder, browner James Bond: "When it comes to ladies, I have a licence to kill!" Cue the secret-agent music, and a string of songs that explore the theme in ways that can get downright creepy. In Bodies, for example, Green sings, "They say that chivalry is dead; then why is her body in my bed?" Kind of crass, you say, as if he bedded her out of pity; but then it turns out that the body is no longer breathing, and the tabloid press is on it, and regret isn't part of the story.
Love Gun takes a title worthy of Spinal Tap and literalizes it, over a habanera beat that becomes more insolent as the doubt grows: "One to the head, then one more to the heart" - are he and Lauren Bennett singing about love, or about America's blind romance with the gun?
In I Want You, Green gets way more abject in the pursuit of his goal than a true lady-killer ought to. But the very next song, Cry Baby, sounds like the aftermath of a show of love-sick adoration that was basically just a con. The song's closing appearance of residual nice-guyness may actually be more obnoxious than the uncaring attitude of the rest.
In short, this disc is all about seduction, and the intended target is you. Green wants to whip you around, mess up your head, fill up your field of vision with his imploring, party-making self, till you just have to give in. And the worst of it is that he succeeds: This record is way too full of compulsive grooves and dance-ready choruses to resist.
The Lady Killer reaches stores on Tuesday and is streaming in its entirety at npr.org.
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