Callaway has crafted his finest Cee-Lo long-player yet.
Mike Diver 2010-11-02
When you’ve a voice as powerful as Atlanta-born Thomas Callaway’s, it’s not going to stay unheard for too long. As Cee-Lo – with or without the Green – Callaway has moulded himself into a chart-topping artist. But success has been far from immediate. Three albums with Goodie Mob in the 90s and a debut solo disc of 2002 were overlooked by British listeners; his second fared better, but was more of a niche concern that a genuine mainstream contender. Fame arrived with Gnarls Barkley, though – Callaway’s hook-up with Danger Mouse produced the global smash-hit Crazy in 2006, and ever since his whirlwind of a voice has been tearing up charts worldwide.
With Gnarls Barkley on hold as Danger Mouse works with Broken Bells, the time is perfect for Cee-Lo’s solo return. And the start to this record’s life could not have been better: lead single Forget You, also here in its foul-mouthed version, topped the British singles chart in the summer. It’s a one-dimensional account of a lover straying due to material attachments, suitably cliché-riddled; but Callaway’s voice is such a potent device that the song becomes an addictive anthem to middle-finger salutes of all varieties.
Brilliantly, it’s nowhere near the best track on The Lady Killer. Please rolls to a jazzy trip hop beat, Callaway’s opening exclamation of feeling tired through chasing the dream soaked in the kind of sincerity that the majority of today’s pop stars – those produced by the machine, rather than raised on passion – can only dream of. There’s so much experience in this voice, so many lost hours, so much unachieved. He’s getting there, but the slow process is taking its toll; optimism is always kept in check by the nagging sense that the rug could be pulled from under at any second.
I Want You is another slow jam, which for all its glitter possesses a melancholic centre – Callaway sighs that the "thrill is gone", so now he must escape to rebuild himself, and his relationships, from the bottom up. Old Fashioned feels just that, but in a wonderful way – a gently swinging affair with sumptuous female backing vocals. Cry Baby sings of desire, but also exposes its protagonist’s shortcomings as the root cause of any obstacle between should-be partners. And Fool for You is the closest an artist of today will come to capturing the magic that made Marvin Gaye such a captivating talent. Throughout, a rich seam of Motown and Chess influences runs for all to hear.
With material of a standard to match his fantastic pipes, here Callaway has crafted his finest Cee-Lo long-player yet.