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Cee-Lo 

Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine (Arista)

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 such as 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 such as "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 songs 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.

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