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Cee Lo solidifies his status as ‘King of Neo Soul’

Chris Collum | Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cee Lo Green has already proven his worth as a chart-topping soul man with Gnarls Barkley, the duo he formed with indie producer Danger Mouse that produced the smash hit “Crazy.” He returns for “The Lady Killer,” his first full-length since Gnarls Barkley’s two albums, in much the same fashion — with a runaway, smash-hit soul song.

“Forget You,” as it is known in its censored form, is a gleefully foul-mouthed kiss-off to an ex-lover set to a fantastic R&B backing track that features a hip-swaying beat and a backing gospel choir in the chorus. The sometimes playful, sometimes remorseful lyrics — “I guess he’s an Xbox and I’m more Atari / But the way you play your game ain’t fair” — are delivered, of course, in Green’s pitch-perfect falsetto.

This track is produced by The Smeezingtons, a coalition whose other hits include “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B and Bruno Mars, “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy and “Right Round” by Flo Rida. Besides being the album’s highlight, “Forget You” is also the song that has propelled Green into the spotlight once more.

Upon its release the unedited version of the song immediately went viral online, and the song charted as high as No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s official video has close to 27 million views. A mash-up version of the song with Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” subsequently became extremely popular. A cover version by Gwyneth Paltrow was recently featured on the hit TV show “Glee.” The song has also become a dorm room party staple in recent months.

While “Forget You” is such an excellent song, one might assume that it runs the risk of overshadowing the rest of the album. This, however, is simply not true, for two reasons. First of all, each track on this album has the potential to become a Top 40 smash courtesy of Green’s incredibly good vocals and eleven other incredible good backing tracks.

And that’s the second reason each song is a standout in its own right: no two tracks really sound alike; each song has its own distinctive character. From “Bright Lights Bigger City,” which is propelled by ‘80s synths and a funky guitar sample, to “Fool For You,” a piano-driven soul number that appropriately features Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire, each song sounds like an instant classic in its own right.

That being said, the album rarely strays from the same themes of spurned romance and regret seen in “Forget You” or “No One’s Gonna Love You” or “It’s OK,” the album’s ELEMENT-produced second single. This can make the album feel a bit stale towards the middle, despite the instrumental diversity, and can call the album’s title into question

Green’s assertion in the album’s introduction that “When it comes to ladies … I have a license to kill” rarely seems to come into play in the album’s lyrical subject matter. The intimate “Bodies” reflects this theme certainly; however, he seems to be rejected by the ladies more often than he seduces them.

But maybe that’s just over-thinking the concept. Besides, despite Green’s clever lyrics on songs like “Forget You,” the focus of this album isn’t lyrical. Its purpose, simply stated, is for Green to nail gorgeous melodies over lush instrumentation, and that he does time and time again. In the aforementioned “Bodies” he soars for the higher end of the spectrum as he proclaims, “They say that chivalry is dead,” in the chorus.

Overall, “The Lady Killer” is a fantastic solo effort by Cee Lo Green that shows without question that he is the “King of Soul” at the moment. Despite his success with this genre, however, he said in a recent interview that he plans to return to hip-hop next, rejoining his old Atlanta-based group Goodie Mob, friends and sometimes-collaborators with Outkast, also from Atlanta. Whether he ever returns to the type of music he’s been making for most of the last decade or not, “The Lady Killer” and its viral single “Forget You” will certainly be remembered as a creative high-water mark for Green — equally important as Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

This album comes with highest recommendations for anyone who enjoys classic R&B and soul or who has heard “Forget You” and found it entertaining.