Fuck You! might be the biggest pop success story of 2010. Cee Lo Green wasn’t exactly reigning in pop ubiquity before it dropped, but thanks to some sunny brass, an instantly catchy sing-along chorus and a lot of internet buzz, the former Goodie Mob crooner had his first bona fide hit since Gnarls Barkley.
This is also the first time Cee Lo has put out a record under his own name since 2004′s excellent Cee Lo Green… Is The Soul Machine. The Lady Killer finds Cee Lo again rehashing those old sounds in the best ways possible. The production is tuned up, Green sings with an added bellow, and the arrangements are more grand and adventurous. The Lady Killer advances and elaborates on Cee Lo’s every strength.
The Lady Killer is comes across as a love letter to warm, ’60s Motown – before the bankruptcy, addiction, and exhaustion of the ’70s crept into the music. UK pop demigod Fraser T Smith contributes four productions that sound absolutely amped up on showman giddiness – the strings, horns and choirs never hit a sour note – and they don’t even slow down for the breakup songs.
Cee Lo sounds a little smoothed out since his agro-funk days, with maybe a little bit of helium let out of his voice, and it really compliments the uncluttered silkiness that defines the album sonically. It’s like listening to a time capsule, a particularly excellent rarities compilation, or all the greatest Motown jams that never made it to tape.
The only thing that sounds inherently new here is the post-intro curveball, Bright Lights Bigger City, which combines an electro-funk groove, swirling violins and a massive rave-synth chorus. It’s great, off-the-wall, and totally engaging, but it’s not even the biggest surprise on The Lady Killer.
The surprise comes at the very end. Producer Paul Epworth cues up a majestic organ, a robotic breakbeat and a strangely familiar guitar pluck. Of course all is revealed when Cee Lo sings the opening lyric of No One’s Gonna Love You: “It’s looking like a limb torn off.” A Band of Horses cover isn’t the first thing you’d expect from a soul singer, but when he hits that immortal chorus, amidst a truly heart-racing orchestral swell – “No one’s ever gonna love you more than I do!” – it couldn’t be a more perfect fit.
Cee Lo sticks to what makes him strong all the way through The Lady Killer. And, luckily for us, what makes him strong is still miles ahead of the rest of the game. He’s crafted an album that’s sole and obsessive goal is to be enjoyed. It doesn’t have any pretenses about being great and achieves in the most basic way possible: by being impeccably organized, well-sung, and well-written, with not an ounce of filler in sight.