Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Hip-hop is dead 

Long live Cee-Lo Green, the Soul Machine

Between the street grapevine and a cursory glance at www.AllHipHop.com headlines, hip-hop is rife with bad news. OutKast's long-delayed Idlewild opus has armchair critics' tongues wagging. Then there's Snoop Dogg, permanently banned from the UK due to a Heathrow tussle resulting from his entourage not being admitted to the BA first class lounge with alacrity. Many down here in Dixie have tsked-tsked over T.I.'s recent bullet-riddled escapades in Cincy. And Diddy's new distinction of paying among the highest baby mama support in the nation -- $19,000-plus per month for Justin -- is pathetic and laughable. Fortunately, for those who still care about rhymespit and the wheels o' steel, the Dirty Dirty has come to the rescue again: Peep once-and-future Goodie Mobster Cee-Lo as one half of Gnarls Barkley.

St. Elsewhere (Atlantic/Downtown;****) is that one-in-a-million rarity: a successful rock-star side project. Reviews are already claiming this is the recording Marvin Gaye would've made had he existed in the digital age. Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse of The Grey Album, Danger Doom and Gorillaz' Demon Days fame) -- one of the best indie hip-hop producers in the game besides Madlib and NC's own 9th Wonder -- deploys classic rock & soul loops to build this masterpiece, but the album is actually like a 21st century version of Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On. Like that masterpiece, St. Elsewhere is a paradigm-shifting work, and may well be deemed the album of 2006.

And so, fittingly, Burton's tempos and tones swing abruptly, as do Cee-Lo's dark visions -- "It's not just good, it's great depression," he sings on the suicide ode "Just A Thought." While remixing Stone's brand of epic paranoia into passionate experimentation and sombre lyrics of madness, necrophilia and spiritual despair, the CD still manages to be organically trippy. And Cee-Lo's balance of sugabear falsetto and rhyme dexterity is fleeting in hip-hop and R&B alike (did someone dare mention Pharrell?).

Starting with the sound of a whirring projector, the disc is reel-to-surreal, an exhilarating collaboration between the Soul Machine and Danger Mouse that only could be improved by inviting legendary Canadian funk composer Galt MacDermot to the mixer. If the aim was to make a CD on par with a Luis Buñuel film, the duo rather succeeds. Silky soul crooning competes with churchy shouting, cartoon humor, lyrical themes worthy of late Japanese scribe Yukio Mishima, and a dazzling mix of techno beats.

The title track is a great country blues with down-tempo update, containing Hendrixian ax effects. Rare grooves of the Lonnie Liston Smith and Midnight Band variety enrich "Online." "Smiley Faces" is a stunning piece of Cosmic Americana-cum-postmodern Motown, with Cee-Lo channeling Diana "the Boss" Ross and the Supremes (the best revision since George Michael took on Hitsville with "Freedom" in the mid-1980s). Meanwhile, "Feng Shui" nods to string-laden early '70s soul like the Main Ingredient and the Stylistics. And "Necromancer" mashes-up Funkadelic's lachrymose, anti-Vietnam "March to the Witch's Castle."

"The Last Time" takes one back to post-bugalú Nuyorica, when hip-hop pioneers from the Ghetto Brothers gang reigned supreme in the South Bronx. The gothic garage rock of "The Boogie Monster" is so witty and convincing one thinks Arthur Lee (or Screamin' Jay Hawkins) must be singing the ghost notes. Even a tossed-off Violent Femmes cover ("Gone Daddy Gone") is OK, just not as adventurous as the other material here. (Cee-Lo would've done better to exercise his Jim Morrison fixation here.)

"Crazy," the first tune to ever hit No. 1 solely via downloads, is the greatest country-soul cut since Anthony Hamilton's "Lucille." The overall result is the best album I've heard since Donnie's The Colored Section, Lewis Taylor's Stoned and Steve Spacek's Space Shift.

In fact, St. Elsewhere is the type of album that I thought Cee-Lo's Dungeon Family bruh Andre 3000 would make in the aftermath of "B.O.B." and Stankonia's magnificence; instead, we got the woefully uneven The Love Below. So news of Goodie Mob's pending reunion release is most welcome.

As Cee-Lo says on "Transformer": "I'm a microchip off the old block." Indeed -- and that block is somewhere in the most superb and freaky ATLien space. All the Gotham hip-hop critics who previously claimed Cee-Lo's solo releases amounted to him trying too hard to emulate Andre-Ice Cold have now had their asses handed to 'em. Above all, St. Elsewhere is the maximum smackdown of most musical orthodoxy -- particularly hip-hop forms, rock, dance, inspirational music and mainstream R&B. Just when I need a dark days soundtrack, St. Elsewhere's psychedelic soul (per Burton) is ready to take us all to the mountaintop. Freer than hi-fidelity ... If only.

Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Latest in Redneck Negress

Search Events

Photo Galleries

» more slideshows
www.flickr.com
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2017 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation