Review

Cee Lo's debut album had been an interesting listen but resonated with very few listeners, so some changes were due for his second go-round, Cee Lo Green...Is the Soul Machine, which is indeed a drastically improved effort. Arista head honcho L.A. Reid had no doubt let Cee Lo fly his freak flag high and mighty for Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (2002), for what resulted was an album that was, in a word, curious -- a sprawling carnival of Dirty South-inflected soul singing that knew no boundaries whatsoever, willfully professing its weirdness on out-there songs like the lead single, "Closet Freak," the closest Cee Lo came to crossing over commercially. In other words, cross over à la OutKast he didn't -- not by a long shot. In fact, most listeners took him at face value and wrote him off as a freak. It'd be a real shame if that happened again with Cee Lo Green...Is the Soul Machine. Sure, the big guy is still fairly weird here, but he's tastefully weird and, above all, focused this time. He's written a stronger batch of songs and has aligned himself with some of the best producers in the industry (the entire industry, that is): Timbaland and the Neptunes, most notably, and also Jazze Pha, Organized Noize, and DJ Premier. How he managed to rein in such a team of big-money producers is a good question (maybe the concurrently dismissed L.A. Reid can answer that one), but the result is nothing short of delightful. The album opens with a flawless run of radio-ready tunes -- "The Art of Noise" through "My Kind of People" -- and then spins off into a mélange of Cee Lo-isms: stream-of-consciousness spoken word-style raps that cut deep, stirred into kaleidoscopic musical arrangements that straddle the hip-hop and deep soul eras simultaneously, all of it utterly distinct from track to track, ultimately culminating all too soon at the 65-minute mark. Once again Cee Lo has recorded a peerless album, except this time he's recorded one that should connect, or at least deserves to. OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below (especially André 3000's half) is probably the best touchstone you're liable to find this side of your imagination, in terms of not only style but also quality and vision. ~ Jason Birchmeier, Rovi

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