Cee-Lo Green: Cee-Lo's Magic Moment – review

If anyone can make a Christmas album work in this day and age, it's Cee-Lo. And he has – well, almost

This week, as is traditional, the singles chart is full of Christmas records. Curiously, every one is a reissue of very advanced years: Mariah Carey's 18-year-old All I Want for Christmas Is You counts as a snotty young upstart. Elsewhere, Wizzard, Slade and Wham! are creaking their way up the Top 40 for the umpteenth time, unimpeded by a festive challenge from a contemporary artist. For a sub-genre of pop reviled as the last refuge of the bland, the barefaced and the quick-buck merchant, it appears from this reliance on the old that the Christmas record is a tough thing to get right. It tends to thrive in eras big on schmaltz or shamelessness – the pre-rock'n'roll age, the glam 1970s – and ours is an age in which pop music sets a lot of store by good taste, when even TV talent-show winners cover Leonard Cohen and manufactured boybands call on the help of sensitive acoustic singer-songwriters. In 2012, British pop likes to think it's above things such as novelty – it leaves that to foreigners like Psy – which means the Christmas pop record has become a lost art. It's been abandoned by the kind of acts that used to make them, taken up only by artists old enough to fondly recall when they were an essential part of pop's constitution, or by indie types going about it with an arched eyebrow.

It's a different story in the US, where the Christmas album is still a pop rite of passage: rappers make them; huge-selling pop-country artists such as Lady Antebellum make them; last year Justin Bieber made one. This year's big pop effort appears to be by Cee-Lo Green. He seems like a decent bet as a Christmas artist, partly because he has a fantastic, old-fashioned soul voice, but mostly because he's a man only on glancing terms with the notion of good taste, as evidenced by Magic Moment's cover: Green, clad in a pink fur coat, travelling in a present-stuffed limousine drawn by prancing horses, with a reindeer riding shotgun.

Magic Moments offers up a pretty impressive selection of aged soul styles – doo wop, Motown, something close to 1970s Al Green on This Christmas, a hint of gospel on Mary, Did You Know? – and it does them all well, while a cover of Joni Mitchell's River shows off how well he can use the power of restraint in his voice. It's the only thing here that might conceivably have a place on your iPod past New Year.

But having a life past New Year isn't really the point of a Christmas album, and Magic Moments is at its most immediately enjoyable when Green forgets his self-appointed role as a kind of vintage soul curator and goes unashamedly headfirst into tinsel and tack. The opening What Christmas Means to Me is a cheery Phil Spector update. All I Need Is Love features The Muppets – or, as we now appear to be obliged to call them, a little depressingly, Disney's The Muppets. The chorus is swiped from Piero Umiliani's Mah Nà Mah Nà. On one hand, it's pleasingly ludicrous; on the other, it's the one moment on the album that has some correspondence to his pre-fame work: the assemblage of weird, gibbering voices isn't so far removed from his psychedelic Atlanta rap collective Dungeon Family at their most deranged.

In fact, it's hard not to wish some more of the Dungeon Family spirit had seeped into Magic Moments: the appearance of Rod Stewart might have been enlivened had he been obliged to do his thing against a lurid backdrop of Funkadelic-inspired yowling. Elsewhere, Green performs Baby It's Cold Outside as a duet with Christina Aguilera. They play it dead straight, and it sounds so creepy you feel like stepping in: "Look, mate, it's Christmas, we've all had a drink, but the lady said she wants to leave, all right?"

There's also filler, where inspiration clearly lagged, and the sigh of, "Oh, that'll do," is almost audible: the backing of The Christmas Song sounds like something from a karaoke machine. And so Magic Moment nearly works, but not quite: further proof, should you need it, that making a Christmas record is tougher than you might think.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
CeeLo Green: Heart Blanche review – jumbled styles and mixed messages
CeeLo Green does little to address his recent mistakes on this unappealing new album

Tim Jonze

12, Nov, 2015 @10:15 PM

Article image
Cee Lo Green – review
The much-loved rapper-singer's holler was reduced from an Everest to a Ben Nevis by a heavy cold – but he soldiered on, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

28, Mar, 2011 @8:29 PM

Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer | CD review
The dropping of the F-word aside, Will Dean's mightily impressed by the latest effort from Cee Lo Green

Will Dean

28, Oct, 2010 @10:40 PM

Article image
Royal Headache: High review – soul-punk magic from Sydney heartbreakers
Back in action after their 2013 split, this beloved Syndey soul-punk outfit excel themselves on their compact, fiery second album

Tom Hughes

20, Aug, 2015 @9:15 PM

Article image
Izzy Bizu: A Moment of Madness review – relentlessly sweet jazz-soul-pop

Caroline Sullivan

01, Sep, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
Cee Lo Green: 'I'd do a lot more damage if I could'
There aren't many musicians who would consider releasing an expletive-laden viral hit to be selling out in some way. Angus Batey meets the remarkable pop-soulster Cee Lo Green

Angus Batey

30, Sep, 2010 @9:00 PM

Article image
Mary J Blige: Strength of a Woman review – R&B star conjures some of her old magic

Kate Hutchinson

27, Apr, 2017 @8:45 PM

Article image
Video: Cee Lo Green live session: How I Wrote ... Forget You

The soul star's chart-topping single was originally called Fuck You. In an exclusive performance in the Guardian's studio, he performs the viral smash hit in its original form, and explains the song's genesis

Sami Abusamra, Elliot Smith, Ben Kape and Henry Barnes

11, Nov, 2010 @2:14 PM

Article image
Cee-Lo Green says drug allegations were 'blown out of proportion'
The singer has apologised for the 2012 incident which led to his exit from US talent show, The Voice, claiming ‘We’re human beings and we make mistakes’

Guardian music

09, Dec, 2015 @11:22 AM

Cee Lo Green criticised for changing lyrics to John Lennon's Imagine
Forget You singer apologises to fans for New Year's Eve performance in which he changed line criticising religion

Sean Michaels

03, Jan, 2012 @10:56 AM