If Cee Lo Green were a comic book superhero, the music video for "Fuck You" would be his origin story. In the clip, a suit-clad Green winces as his past failures with women flash before his eyes: An adolescent Cee Lo gets ditched for a little boy with a shinier toy car, while a college-aged version has ketchup-covered French fries spilled on his plaid suit.
"These are the humble beginnings of a lady killer," the 35-year-old singer says. "Bruce Wayne's parents were killed and Peter Parker was bit by a radioactive spider. I just got my heart broken one too many times."
"The Lady Killer," the ultra-cool persona that emerges from the romantic wreckage in the video, is the latest alter ego in a career of many distinct characters and sounds. Green's soul-drenched new album, "The Lady Killer," is a far cry from the Southern hip-hop of Goodie Mob that launched Green's career in the mid-'90s, or the off-kilter pop of Gnarls Barkley that topped the charts in 2006.
While Green's first two solo efforts failed to garner much mainstream attention, "The Lady Killer" matches his rafter-reaching voice with big-band instrumentation and a new label -- the recently rebooted Elektra Records -- that knows how to market it. "Before we signed him, he had already demonstrated the direction of the album as this wild, futuristic soul sound," says Elektra president Mike Caren. Co-president John Janick adds, "There was nothing else like [his sound], and it spans over all different types of audiences."
Although first single "Fuck You" is Green's ode to having "not won them all," the song's infectious Motown vibe and clever viral campaign won over audiences more quickly than Elektra anticipated. With over 300,000 U.S. downloads and its promotional "lyric" video earning over 6.6 million YouTube views since August, the song's popularity helped accomplish the rare feat of pushing up the release date of Green's new full-length from Dec. 7 to Nov. 9.
"It's pleasantly surprising," says Green, who previously enjoyed out-of-nowhere commercial success with Gnarls Barkley's first single, "Crazy." "But I'm poised for it, and I'm dressed for the occasion."
"The Lady Killer" arrives six years after Green's sophomore solo effort, "Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine," and follows two discs by Gnarls Barkley, his collaboration with producer Danger Mouse. The duo's 2006 debut, "St. Elsewhere," moved 1.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. thanks in part to "Crazy" hitting No. 2 on the Hot 100, although 2008's "The Odd Couple" failed to produce a hit single and has sold 250,000 U.S. copies.
While the singer (real name: Thomas DeCarlo Callaway) believes "The Odd Couple" was a stronger full-length than its predecessor, "There were quite a few people who argued that 'Odd Couple' came too soon after 'St. Elsewhere,' and maybe they had a point," he says. "At the time, 'Crazy' was such a big thing that it was kind of hard to live it down."