Friday, January 02, 2009

The Review That Started It All

I've been writing music reviews on this blog since it started but the very first one I wrote wasn't posted here. In fact, I wrote it before I started blogging.

My first music review was of Cee-Lo's debut album Cee-Lo Green And His Perfect Imperfections and it was published in Northwestern University's black student magazine Blackboard back in 2002. Now, I'm posting it online for the very first time.

My writing style has changed in the six years since this review. If I were to review this album now, my review would probably be longer, more spaced out, and probably a little less positive. I apologize ahead of time for the really long paragraphs. Still, it's fun to look back.

CD Review: Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green And His Perfect Imperfections (Originally written in 2002 and featured here in its original version)

Cee-Lo’s last album appearance was on Goodie Mob’s lackluster “World Party” CD. Now almost 3 years later, he returns with his solo debut “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections.” It’s a big departure from Goodie Mob’s stuff, and one of the best albums released so far this year.

A major difference between this and Cee-Lo’s earlier work is that he sings about as much as he raps. By doing so, he joins artists like Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott in combining elements of hip hop and R&B music. Cee-Lo takes this fusion in innovative directions by adding other musical genres into the mix. “Closet Freak” is an homage to 70’s P-Funk from the use of real horns, to the freaky lyrics (and even freakier video). “Live (Right Now)” has Cee-Lo singing over a rock track that owes more to Fishbone than Linkin Park. “Country Love” has a minimalist down-home flavor with Blues Traveler’s John Popper providing his harmonica skills. Dance influences are evident in “Microhard.” “Bass Head Jazz” is as smooth and mellow as the name implies. However, don’t think the album is all about fusing different genres together. “Suga Baby,” featuring Big Gipp and Backbone, could have been a song on a Goodie Mob album. “Spend The Night in Your Mind” is a full on R&B slow jam, and a song that he handles amazingly well.

Themes of freedom, growing up, spirituality, and hope run throughout this album. “El Dorado (Super Chicken)” tells a tale of a bird wanting to fly: “I can’t let nobody hold me down/This is my life and that’s my sky/I was born to fly.” “Gettin’ Grown” deals with getting older: “I remember the good old days/Broads and boxes of blunts to blaze/Now I got three children to raise.” “Live (Right Now)” encourages people to keep going, but not without being careful: “And don’t you let anybody tell you what you can do/Ain’t another minute promised to you/You better live.” Cee-Lo shows his spiritual side proudly on the album like proclaiming his “mother is nature” and that his “father is God” on “Bad Mutha.” In addition he acknowledges his darker side on “Medieval Times (Great Pretender)”: “A thin line between between divine and killing machine/A dark side of the light that no one ever should see.”

All in all, this is a great album. Whatever flaws there are are nitpicks: it’s long with a running time of almost 74 minutes, the fast songs should have been a little more spread out, the interludes are unnecessary, and etc. Cee-Lo took some big risks with his debut. He could have easily made a platiunum album by getting the hottest producers, collaborating a lot with his fellow Goodie Mob members, loading up on the guest stars and rhyming on 90% of the album. However, he decided to make an album that clearly represents him and not his image. In self-producing the entire album, using live instruments on many songs, dabbling in other genres, and singing for much of the album, Cee-Lo takes chances even OutKast hasn’t taken. The result is a near flawless album that defies categorization. Whether or not this means commercial success is uncertain. Yet, Cee-Lo joins a growing group of artists including N.E.R.D., Mos Def, OutKast, and Common, that take hip hop into new directions and keep it from becoming a stagnant artform.

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