How can you not love Cee Lo? He’s a virtuoso rapper who has one of pop’s most unique singing voices. He’s a self-proclaimed lady-killer who’s roughly as tall as a mini-refrigerator and as broad as a Hummer. He wears pink suits. He put a song called “Fuck You” in the Top 20. He is, in other words, an original: a showman with a penchant for scrambling a variety of sounds — rock, soul, hip-hop, spaghetti-Western soundtracks — into something deliciously strange.
That weirdness makes Cee Lo’s first album since Gnarls Barkley blew up one of the most engrossing records of 2010. It’s tempting to peg the sound as retro-soul. But as with Gnarls, the music won’t stay put. “Fool for You” slides from silken ballad to gospel funk. On “Love Gun,” gunshots punctuate strings and surf guitars — it’s part Philly soul, part James Bond theme.
At times there’s a slight chilliness to Cee Lo; his stormy ballads — like the slow-boiling ballad stunner “Old Fashioned” — can seem less like confessions than stylistic exercises. But, oh, what style. Listen to Cee Lo at his most beatific, on “Bright Lights Bigger City,” a thumping neo-disco ode to a bacchanalian night out. “Cocktails and conversation/Music and making love/And it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right,” he sings. Is there any other pop star you’d rather hit the town with? What are you, crazy?