Thomas DeCarlo Callaway aka CeeLo Green recently released his new album Heart Blanche. The forty-one year old from Atlanta hit worldwide fame as part of soul duo Gnarls Barkley, with their 2006 hit “Crazy”. He has since gone solo, gaining particular success from his instant classic and internet famous “Forget You”. He’s now back with his first studio album of new tracks in five years, and his fifth solo album – Heart Blanche.
The album consists of fifteen tracks, the general vibe of which appears to be one of happiness. In a recent interview, Green described the new material as “the start of a new beginning“, stating that the “album is a prequel to the rest of the music I want to release in the very near future“. Heart Blanche was released through Atlantic Records and with the help of a whole bunch of producers including Alex ‘AK’ Kresovich, Brian Kennedy, Charlie Puth, Cook Classics, Daniel Ledinsky, Eg White, The Futuristics, Jack Splash, Jamil “Digi” Chammas, John Hill, Jon Bellion, Mark Ronson, Sean Phelan, Sonny J Mason and Tommy Hittz.
Track nine on Heart Blanche, “Music To My Soul” was released prior to the album itself, as one of its lead singles. It holds everything that mainstream pop music is synonymous with nowadays – a repeated chord progression, a beat that you can dance to and a simple structure. The message behind the song when delving into the lyrics is that no matter how ‘dark’ we get, it always gets ‘brighter’.
This transformation is one that brings ‘music’ to CeeLo’s ‘soul’, taking comfort in the idea that everything will be alright in the end. There are gospel undertones in the music, perhaps alluding to the faith that you have to have for things to get better. The gospel comparison is one that can be made throughout the album though, and with the overriding emotion of the album being one of happiness, it is easy to see why.
“Working Class Heroes (Work)“, track four on the album, brings with it a bass-heavy beat, lots of synths, just asking the listener to get up and move. Green’s word pronunciations are very loose, seemingly more ‘gangsta’ than usual. The obligatory low pass filter can be found towards the end of the track as it builds to a climax. It exudes happiness, with harmonies always ascending, alluding again to the ideas of things getting better.
Green samples Bob James’ theme to Taxi for track seven of Heart Blanche, “Sign Of The Times“. The familiar harmony is given a back-beat as CeeLo serenades us with his dulcet tones. I enjoyed this track the most on the album, I think that Green uses the sample very well. His strongest asset is his vocals, and I think this is demonstrated in this track, given the freedom of someone else’s chord progression. The feel-good nature of Heart Blanche is slightly lacking in this track though, for the opposite reason to that of “Working Class Heroes (Work)”. The bass line is mostly descending, and the sentiment “sign of the times” is one of negativity – alluding to previously better times.
The sixth track on the album was released way back in July following the sad, untimely passing of comedian Robin Williams. The track is titled after the late actor and the lyrics portray CeeLo’s admiration of his work and the happiness he brought to so many. “For this generation, Robin Williams’ untimely and unfortunate death – he’s probably more synonymous with that than his actual life’s work. So I’m going back to Mork & Mindy and The World According to Garp and Popeye — things I actually grew up with – so I know Robin a little bit better“, stated CeeLo in an interview with Associated Press (AP).
“It wasn’t meant to be a tribute to the extent of an obituary” he continued. “I got to address my own empathy for him in a personal way, but also make it general and applicable to everyone“. Those sentiments are certainly echoed in “Robin Williams“, mourning the loss of not only Williams but also the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman who we also lost far too soon.
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with this album. I am a massive fan of CeeLo’s vocals, his talent is undeniable, but the songwriting let him down for much of the album. Perhaps this is due to the sheer amount of producers, the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” comes to mind. Heart Blanche took a very mainstream route, and it felt a bit lost as to one particular style it was going for, each song seemingly separate from the next.
I am not saying, however, that it is bad, just not what I was looking forward to listening to. When asked on his retrospective opinion on Heart Blanche by AP CeeLo stated, “I’m content with the album but I’m not complacent with the album. I can do more and I want to do more“. I just hope that he follows this when it comes round to writing his sixth solo album, until then, I will make do with Heart Blanche.
CeeLo Green’s Heart Blanche is out now on Warner Music (UK) and Atlantic Records (US), purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by William Kitchener