When an artist is armed with a voice so instantly distinguishable, so powerful, and so handsome as Cee-Lo Green’s, it’s impossible to think mainstream success would elude him forever. Given his extraordinary vocal talent, though, his success story hasn’t been as straightforward as perhaps it could be. Dropped by Arista after two critically acclaimed, if commercially modest, albums, Green floated in limbo until his haphazard collaboration with producer Danger Mouse under the moniker Gnarls Barkley. Their breakthrough single “Crazy” is unquestionably the biggest hit of his career so far. That is, until now, with the all-conquering momentum behind “Fuck You” spearheading The Lady Killer, Green’s third solo outing and perhaps the most commercially accessible record he’s capable of making.
That the castrated radio edit of the song, “Forget You,” also appears on the album underlines the record’s accessibility, though it also undermines the track’s message of unbridled wrath. In these 50 minutes of buoyant nü-Motown and progressive soul, Green continues to address life’s woes and presents them in a sleek chart-ready package. The Lady Killer doesn’t possess the stylistic ADHD or the rough edges of Green’s earlier work, sticking to sprightly brass arrangements and cheery string licks as his weapons of choice for the most part. “Cry Baby,” “Satisfied,” and “Fuck You” are flagrantly bouncy numbers that typify the mood of the album’s early stages, bouts of radio-friendly, upbeat soul with a suitably chunky groove for Green’s mammoth voice box.
The Lady Killer‘s darker and more measured turns are more than equally engrossing themselves, with the Atlanta-born singer putting a very literal spin on the album title in “Bodies.” In this sinister self-portrait, Green adopts the guise of a serial killer and talks us through his latest scalp with chilling conviction. It’s a wildly absorbing yarn, with snippets of muffled dialogue from his female victim establishing a call-and-repeat rapport with the killer and his debauched musings. Green’s vocals are hushed, adding a dark quality to his prose as he whispers chilling lines like “The wine is white and the lights are dim/They warned you don’t go home with him.” (This irrevocable highlight is matched only by “Please,” a pseudo Bond theme exclusive to the album’s European deluxe edition in which Green trades verses with Belgian singer Selah Sue, her fragile tones complementing his deep, soulful crooning magnificently.)
Despite its top-notch instrumentals and über-polished production, The Lady Killer stands out for Green’s breathtaking vocal performances. Whether he’s delivering baritone balladry on “Bodies” or wailing with intensity on “Bright Lights Bigger City,” his vocals are absolutely flawless. Pitch-perfect from tip to toe, The Lady Killer‘s leading man may well have cemented himself as one of his generation’s finest singers. And, rather conveniently, this comes just as the wider world is beginning to take serious notice of his prodigious talent.