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Sunday 17 December 2017

Green is still on the money

In a world of synthetic garbage, soul legend-in-waiting Cee Lo Green is just the man needed to shake things up

AT A TIME when the pop music agenda is being set by the dross and gutter garbage of karaoke reheats and tuneless puppets spewed from Saturday evening TV's seventh level of hell, Cee Lo Green is a welcome one-man apocalypse.

"F**k you!" he sings in soul's richest tones, feathery as an angel's wings. "F**k you!" he sings on behalf of us all. "F**k you!" There have been almost 12 million hits on the song's official YouTube posting. Zeitgeist or what?

The Atlanta rapper, who unleashed one of the most compelling soul voices of his generation on a couple of solo albums before making history with the number one Gnarls Barkley single Crazy, underlines his ability to communicate on the deepest level. Whether you want to view F**k You as a riposte to a lover who spurned his affections, politicians who bleed the people dry or pissy-assed finger-sucking critics with just one moaning riff to bore us, you got to admit he's on to something.

Even so, Mr Green presents us with a problem. That he's in a celebrated line that stretches from Sam Cooke, through Curtis Mayfield and James Brown, right up to Prince and beyond, is not in dispute. The question at the core of his rhythm schtick is far more fundamental. Modern soul, what's it good for?

Time was when rhythm'n'blues was a vital, life-affirming cultural force, giving voice to a beleaguered community's political and economic condition. It was a music of equal parts identity, protest, aspiration and hope.

From gospel to funk, blues to rap, the music of black America has long provided templates for world pop. His physique might suggest Green is simply a modern Solomon Burke (recently deceased), but he's got more jewels in his crown.

One of the gang of artists who put Atlanta on the map in the '90s, Green was an essential component of gritty rappers the Goodie Mob before we heard him on TLC's chart-topping single Waterfalls. Since then he's been writing and producing hits for others, including the Pussycat Dolls, Brandy and Amerie.

He's a busy man. His track What Part of Forever appeared on the Twilight Saga: Eclipse. He's already at work on a reunited Goodie Mob album and claims he recorded 70 songs before making his selection for this album. (His label slipped some out on the Stray Bullets mixtape.)

This is the album Green hopes will establish his reputation as a solo artist. "I've been underground and underdog," he says. "I need to be seen as the thing to do. I think I'm needed as an artist, an individual, an entity, an enigma, an exhibitionist, an entertainer, an alternative."

He'd best be prepared. These 14 tracks contain, as they're wont to say, much killer, little filler. The Lady Killer is top-rate entertainment. A vaguely thematic collection that incorporates a range of styles, it would pass muster on the strength of its melodies alone. But the Cee Lo Green that displayed dark depths in his work with Danger Mouse is never far away. His F**k You (aka Forget You) statement isn't mindless.

"The silver lining is the sense of humour," he says. "Ultimately the song is about acceptance and being able to smile in the face of adversity." It's also the most uplifting amalgam of funkybutt house styles since Prince Rogers Nelson was in his pomp.

Old Fashioned is a floor-filling smoocher that shouts "classic". Bright Lights, Bigger City (see what he did there, Jimmy Reed fans) plays to his Lady Killer James Bond idea with aplomb. With its tricksy snare drum and spooky vocal, Bodies could have been intended for Eclipse or Gnarls Barkley's St Elsewhere. "I've been held in contempt for an incident . . . Why is her body in my bed . . ?"

Monster. But in the best sense. MMMMI

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