If you’ve never heard of Cee-Lo Green then you should probably run down to the local convenience store and purchase a lottery ticket; odds are if you’re the one person around that has not heard of the voice of Gnarls Barkley, then those same odds may just make you an instant millionaire. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If this actually happens, by the way, all I ask is a 1% “Inspiration” fee.
Gnarls Barkley’s album St. Elsewhere soars on the heavenly vocals of Mr. Green, as it bobs and weaves through the dense beats and sonic scenery provided by Danger Mouse. Once you’ve had a chance to sit and listen to the album, one question comes instantly to mind. Namely, where on earth did Cee-Lo and his voice — not to mention his incredible lyrics that managed to be spacey, spicy, and just downright odd all at the same time — come from?
Closet Freak: The Very Best of Cee-Lo Green the Soul Machine is as good a place as any to begin looking.
A mixture of tracks originally emanating from three albums, 1995’s Soul Food by Goodie Mob (of which Cee-lo was a seminal member), 2002’s Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, and 2004’s Cee-Lo Green… is the Soul Machine, Closet Freak seems to set the stage perfectly to remind people that Gnarls Barkley’s — and Cee-Lo’s, especially — quick-fire success in 2006 was not all that “quick,” after all.
Cee-Lo has been “in the game” for a while now.
Fittingly, Closet Freak opens with the same soulful invocation that opened up Goodie Mob’s first album, Soul Food. “Free,” a prayer for the chance to be free in every aspect of life, also served, and still serves, as a righteous clarion call announcing the fact that Cee-Lo was not going to allow himself to be pigeon-holed into the role of a hip-hop performer.
In many ways, “Free” is as much a demand for freedom from such restrictions, as it is a prayer for anything else.
Two other tracks on Closet Freak are from Goodie Mob’s Soul Food album, the haunting and hauntingly beautiful “Cell Therapy,” which was their first single, and the title track, “Soul Food” itself, which manages to paint a very vivid picture of what it feels and sounds like — at least as much as any music can —to have a soul that grew up poor and black in the “Dirty” South.
The title track of this collection “Closet Freak” was the only single (and video) from Cee-Lo’s solo album debut, but is accompanied here by another five tracks from the album: “Young Man (Sierra’s Song),” “Getting’ Grown,” “A Thug’s Concern … (break)… One for the Road,” “Bass Head Jazz,” and “Under the Influence.”
These songs, especially “Closet Freak,” are the first moments that Cee-Lo seems to have felt comfortable enough to spread his wings and truly allow his soul to express himself. Luckily for us, that soul is a very soulful and funky one.
Of particular notice is the dreamy “Bass Head Jazz,” which is more of a sonic hallucination than a proper song. On and on it swells and swaggers with the knowledge that there are some people that will find themselves listening to it and not understanding anything at all — and that’s okay.
From Cee-Lo’s second album comes “I’ll Be Around,” “Evening News,” “I Am Selling Soul,” “Living Again,” “Childz Play,” “The Art of Noise,” “The One,” and “Sometimes”
Present on these tracks is the same sense of adventure and sonic mischief that were on tracks from earlier in his recording career, but these songs offer proof of something that is rare in today’s music scene; signs of maturity.
In today’s world of cookie-cutter bands, songs, and radio station formats, very rarely does an artist get the chance to grow and mature and have a proper career. Often, instead, they are encouraged to try and repeat whatever earned them success in their past. That’s if they had success immediately, of course. The bands and artists that do not find commercial success that they are able to Xerox for another few albums, usually are shoved right off the music shelves for the “next big thing.”
Cee-Lo, perhaps thanks to his awareness that his talent is something special and unique, seems to have refused to allow that to happen to himself or his music. So, instead of “more of the same old same old” from Cee-Lo, listeners are treated to lush sonic roller coasters of funky soulfulness.
The easiest way to explain his sound is for someone to imagine if James Brown and Prince had a love-child, and then only allowed him to listen to Rick James, Parliament Funkadelic, and a whole lot of Afrika Bambaataa while growing up.
Case in point, one of the more interesting songs on this album is “Sometimes,” which is a deliciously conscious exploration of the fact that a song doesn’t need to have the usual nuts and bolts of a song, for it to work. Speaking and flowing over the background give and take of a flute-heavy loop, Cee-Lo uses this song to speak ad nauseum about what music means to him and what it allows him to do and be. It’s trippy and surreal and comes across as a psychedelic spoken word piece at the local poetry corner. It’s wonderful, really.
Come to think of it, wonderful is a perfect word to end upon. Sure, many of these songs are not of the same caliber as those on St. Elsewhere, but there is just something about them that makes them shine. Funky, irreverent (about anything else except himself, that is), and blessed with one of the most talented voices to come about in any music genre in quite a while… Cee-Lo’s music is a wonder, and listening to it leads your mind down a musical rabbit hole that you will be grateful for.
Following the “Alice in Wonderland” thought, my fondest wish is that I get the chance to listen to more of this intriguing man’s music in the future, as he is certainly one “white rabbit” that I would trust to take my ears on an adventure — any time he wants.
Closet Freak: The Best of Cee-Lo Green the Soul Machine is well worth the price of admission, for those of you that would follow the funky rabbit by my side…