"I am not one of these thug-rapper guys," Cee-Lo Green announces on his solo debut. It's by proclaiming his difference that this member of the Atlanta-based rap crew Goodie Mob discovers himself. With his Perfect Imperfections, Green stakes out his place in a long line of rock and soul eccentrics -- everyone from Louis Jordan and Little Richard to James Brown and Sly Stone to George Clinton and Prince. Like his predecessors, Green sees himself as a link in a chain of tradition, yet unlike even the best current neo-soul acts, he acknowledges his forebears without cowering before the tyranny of influence. Green is his own person, and his debut is as distinctive, inventive, and unpredictable as any album in recent memory.
Every track is a sonic delight that underscores Green's lyrics, a musical attack that is, not coincidentally, grounded in the cadences of the church. Equally expressive as a rapper and as a singer, Green's rasp plays call-and-response with organ and choir, and his rolling arrangements and surprisingly subtle phrasing lift off with gospel thrust -- whether he's testifying to his hard-won faith and maturity (as on "Gettin' Grown") or to his sheer horniness (the useless-to-resist first single, "Closet Freak"). On "One for the Road," a stunning, funny display of his mic skills, Cee-Lo places his "Atomic Dog" bark over an irresistible rhythm track: Piano, harp, and Bacharach brass intertwine with bass drum, hi-hat, and handclaps, all mixed in a way that leaves enough space between the beats for a real human being to live and breathe. "Yassuh," he shouts repeatedly on "Live (Right Now)," as squalling rock guitars transform that expression of shuffling servitude into a plea for each of us, individually and collectively, to achieve our human potential.
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Indeed, Green stands out precisely because he aspires to ideals larger than himself -- to goals more substantial than those promoted by today's cynical propagandists of bling-bling materialism. "These wings that I was given were intended to fly," he cries on the inspiring "El Dorado Sunrise (Super Chicken)." No doubt. On his solo debut, Cee-Lo Green positively soars.