Cee-Lo Green's freakadelic solo debut may have established him as a latter-day George Clinton, but he still has the common sense he was born with. A line from his follow-up to 2002's Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections summarizes his new philosophy: "You're most likely to go broke if you can't bend." That's why fellow Southerners like Timbaland and Jazze Pha have been summoned to streamline the former Goodie Mobster's swampy, meandering grooves; channeling Clinton may send critics into ecstasy, but no successful urban artist these days can thumb his nose at the singles charts indefinitely.
But while they successfully shoehorn Cee-Lo's gravelly gospel wail and rapid-fire raps into templates like "I'll Be Around" and "The One," even hip-hop's finest producers can't stop Cee-Lo -- they can contain him in the clubs only for a while. And when he breaks out of the commercial dungeon, the real party resumes. In fact, his alternating R&B homages and boundary-stretching rarely miss, whether he's crooning a Muscle Shoals ballad about having a "Blockbuster Night" and a morning cuddle or screaming the scarifying chorus of "Scrap Metal" -- "Almost instantly/I could say fuck it all!" -- atop stabbing, heavy-metal horns. "Childz Play," a nursery-rhyme romp with Ludacris that borrows its demented swing from Outkast's "The Whole World," should provide a hit to match Cee-Lo's idiosyncrasies. He deserves it -- just ask him. "Sometimes I don't think people know I'm as good as I really am," he growls. Soul Machine and its commercial decoys should address this quite nicely.