CeeLo’s Heart Blanche begins with, “Look in my eyes, you’ll see the soul under my celebrity skin/ I’m not afraid, to open up wider, please be my guest and come on in.” Let it be said that the trappings of celebrity have their own unforeseen circumstances. CeeLo claims he’s ready to be even more transparent, there, but seems to leave his heart behind on this new LP. And, from the onset, you are introduced to a grayer space than the one CeeLo Green has occupied for over a decade.
CeeLo albums play more like amusement parks than shelters, blocking people from musical monotony. And, like an amusement park, CeeLo albums are judged by how many different genres, sounds, ideas he can congeal into a coherent ride. Where else can “Fuck You” be chanted as merrily as “Mary Had A Little Lamb” but at a CeeLo Green amusement park of an album like 2010’s The Lady Killer where “Fuck You” reigns supreme? Gnarls Barkley’s debut album St Elsewhere, even, sounded like a Disney production with an album cover that looks like the outside of a dystopian Disneyland; word to Banksy. You do not listen to CeeLo Green albums, you experience them. A fact which makes Heart Blanche an enjoyable if not stagnant ride, hampered by unfamiliar bumps and downsides.
At its best, Heart Blanche sounds like CeeLo is taking us on a ride through the myriad of musical spaces he has inhabited over the years. “Better Late Than Never,” with its optimistic lyrics about this being the “best time of your life” spread across soft drums, cascading piano chimes and bright strings sounds like a leftover from CeeLo’s Las Vegas residency show “CeeLo Green Is Loberace” from 2013. The marching drums and mechanical sounds paired with grandiose love lyrics like, “I’d run the sands in my bare feet, oh victory so sweet” on album closer “ The Glory Games” harkens listeners back to Gnarls Barkley’s 2008 frenetic “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster).” He even dedicates an entire song, “Music To My Soul” to his “fam from the dungeon,” speaking on his time as part of the 90s Hip Hop collective Dungeon Family which sprouted careers from Outkast, Goodie Mob and even millennial maestro Future.
At its worse, Heart Blanche is CeeLo trying to shove a mosaic into a coloring book, with songs being noticeable by how normal they are. At 15 tracks, Heart Blanche is not much longer than 2010’s The Lady Killer and noticeably shorter than his first two albums, which both had no less than 18 tracks. However, sequencing is the heart of any album and Heart Blanche palpitates from its redundancy. Take the upbeat “Working Class Heroes (Work)” he co-produced with Charlie Puth and Sean Phelan. The staccato style singing of blandly generic lyrics sounds more fitting for an episode of Empire. No, seriously, listening to CeeLo sing, “It’s the concrete jungle so you got to understand, can’t judge no-body, gotta get it how you can” as if he’s trying to teach a child how to speak, one syllable at a time, is so similar to Lucious Lyon sing-rapping “pistol cocked, to handle all issues” in fake prison that it’s hard to not imagine CeeLo’s prolific pen ghostly finding its way into Lee Daniels’ music drama.
Then the album fades into “Tonight,” an upbeat dance track that starts with an epic 30-second intro of powerful CeeLo singing about destiny until you’re warped into a non-stop barrage of sound, and the flaws of “Work” are revealed. While the opening verse starts with, “I’ve been thinking about it lately, trying to live forever,” “Tonight” is every bit radio ready as “Working Class Hero” and has meme-ready lyrics like, “I want to do something that’s worth doing.” Whereas “Work”, with its uninspired chord progression and the paint-by-the-numbers monotony of its synths, sounds like an overt reach for a hit by sacrificing any semblance of traditional CeeLo stylings, “Tonight” pairs his trademark big voice with an even grander beat.
Heart Blanche is not as conceptually tight as the sardonic lover tale of his 2010 album The Lady Killer. It’s also not as ambitious as either of his first two albums, 2002’s Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections and 2004’s Cee-Lo Green…is the Soul Machine. Let’s just hope this warms him up for the long awaited third album from Gnarls Barkley. Until then, enjoy the ride.