Cee Lo Green, formerly half of Gnarls Barkley, is nine years older than Cudi, and when he turned away from rapping, it was partly because he has a marvelous singing voice. (He contributes a chorus to Mr. Rager.) His latest hit, “Fuck You,” is about a woman who drops him for a richer guy. But unlike Cudi’s “Erase Me,” there’s no sneer to it. It’s a feel-good retro-soul number, and Green sings it like an old-school hard-luck story, something written for your amusement. The bridge has him running to his mother and throwing a little tantrum, crying “Why?!” and “I still love you!” in a great comedic rasp. The selling point is a chorus that lets you sing the title words with maximum happiness and minimum pain.
That’s a dramatist’s goal, and Green’s new album is suitably theatrical—a lavishly orchestrated thing called The Lady Killer. The title is the kind of double entendre Green likes; same goes for “crimes of passion,” or the way singing about the body in your bed can leave you sounding like either a lover or a psycho. It’s an album about love and women, which makes the violence an iffy choice, but he stretches the lady-killer persona in sweet directions, too. There’s intrigue that sounds like an old Bond movie, but also a great run of cozy, sweeping songs about devotion and the extremes of passion.
Which means that, unlike the claustrophobia of Cudi’s world, Green is creating drama instead of pulling you into his own. It’s not the modern approach, but then neither is the retro sound. And yet Green’s artifice can feel more personal and generous—a purer experience than being dumped inside Cudi’s head. Maybe that’s because Green’s had nearly a decade longer to get here. He’s done a messed-up childhood, a rap career, solo records, and songwriting gigs; he’s played monsters and exorcised demons with Gnarls Barkley. Green is a great reminder that there are other ways to make connections with people beyond raw oversharing, and that, oddly enough, acting out what you imagine can be more revealing than telling it like it was.