Cee-Lo, Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine (Arista)

After success as a member of Goodie Mob and guest of Outkast, Cee-Lo Green really established his presence with his solo debut, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections. Part player, part preacher, Cee-Lo produces a fluid assimilation of hip-hop, funk, gospel, and rock. The result is the rare musical style that suits its practitioner perfectly. His new album Cee-Lo Green Is The Soul Machine backs up its titular declaration with easy head-bobbing grooves and smooth musical accompaniment.

The record, at a lengthy 65 minutes and 18 tracks, plays like a double album. The first half is the party album — infectious beats and quick choruses barely pause through the smoky atmosphere. The first song, the short cut “Soul Machine” starts with big horn blasts and wraps up with a large choir. Tracks blend into one another seamlessly. “The Art of Noise” is a perfect summer evening jam. Cee-Lo channels Al Green as his singular voice goes from husky mutterings to free-floating falsetto. “Livin’ Large”‘s dark keyboards and low-sung verse disguise its bubbling, hopeful vibe.

The party atmosphere continues through “The One” and the 70s soul of “My Kind of People.” But it’s the bouncing carnival atmosphere of “Child’s Play” that steals the show. Cee-Lo shows off his vocal charisma in sharp verses and a smooth chorus. The simple riff of the song and the boasts of the hook — “Yes, I can sing and I can rap and I can dance and I can act” — add to its appeal. When Ludacris jumps in, it’s officially the most fun track here.

Cee-Lo brings it home with the disco-funk of “I Am Selling Soul” and from there, the record moves into its second half — the laid-back after party. The record slows down and Cee-Lo introduces more gospel and soul into the mix. Though revealing no dip in quality, the second half of the record isn’t as exciting as the first. As Cee-Lo wraps up his second solo album, it becomes clear that this isn’t a hip-hop album influenced by gospel and soul; it’s a soul album in a hip-hop age.

The record’s only shortcoming may be its length. Sixteen songs is a lot to take in. Though the quality never suffers, the quantity distracts. Still, when most albums are filler packed around one decent single, Cee-Lo defies expectations and surprises the listener around every corner.

–TA