When Cee-Lo Green's solo debut dropped two years ago, the critics salivated but the mainstream's tepid response proved that it wasn't quite ready for him yet. With Southern-fried hip-hop tearing up the charts, now might be his time. Like OutKast, Green proudly flies the funky freak flag. His music is a melange of soul, funk, hip-hop, and pop with a healthy dose of wizened lyrics either sung or rapped. With his eyes on higher sales numbers, Green fills his CD with guest appearances by Ludacris and Pharrell and production work by Timbaland and the Neptunes. These songs aren't always the strongest on the CD, but at least the guests don't smother Green's quirky individuality. Some of the cuts -- "Evening News," "All Day Love Affair" -- border on spectacular. The Neptunes' joyful "The Art of Noise" starts with Green introducing himself as the soul machine before releasing a soul shout to explain why. The production work Green does under his birth name, Thomas Callaway, often shines. The track "Living Again" balances his gravelly voice with breezy piano and electronica. "Scrap Metal," Green's epic attack on "perpetrators," "imitators," and "haters" in the hip-hop world, crescendos into a sample of the stomp/clap rhythm of "We Will Rock You." The CD lacks consistency, but when it works, it's fabulous.
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