On their 2006 debut, St. Elsewhere,the two oddballs who make up Gnarls Barkley-producer Danger Mouse and singer Cee-Lo Green-veered from one r&b replica to another with an effortless swing. They swallowed and then spit up a rainbow-hued batch of influences from the 21st century and beyond. Label: Downtown/Atlantic
[Rating: 3.5 Stars]
On their 2006 debut, St. Elsewhere,the two oddballs who make up Gnarls Barkley-producer Danger Mouse and singer Cee-Lo Green-veered from one r&b replica to another with an effortless swing. They swallowed and then spit up a rainbow-hued batch of influences from the 21st century and beyond. “Crazy,” the album’s monster single, is the one everyone knows, but throughout St. Elsewhere Gnarls Barkley found grooves in the most obvious and unlikeliest places.
Make no mistake: Danger Mouse and Green are soul men. Danger Mouse builds beats on top of one another until you’re not really sure where one starts and the other ends. And Green-whether working a high-pitched croon or bridging gospel, blues, and hip-hop with his sing-songy voice-makes nearly every song fit his nasally pipes.
The Odd Couple (yes, another TV-show reference-and the unspooling movie reel at the very beginning of the CD nods to the pop-culture ethos at the heart of the group) is a more complex record than St. Elsewhere. At times, Green sounds like he’s about to spill decades’ worth of psychological baggage on listeners’ laps. The Odd Couple is his id shaking its body down to the ground and then clicking its heels three times, repeating “There’s no place like home.” No coincidence that Green and Danger Mouse dressed up like Wizard of Oz characters onstage. They’re living out a fantasy, and this is their fantasy island (say-there’s the third album’s title!).
But it can also be a dark and scary place at times. In “Run,” Green sings, “Either you run right now or you best get ready to die.” It’s not so much a threat or even a warning; it’s a prophecy Green is totally vested in. There’s a sense of defeat on The Odd Couple. In the bluesy shuffle “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” Green not only sounds beat, he’s given up: His soul doesn’t stand a chance in hell.
Yet it’s not all deep, heavy and salvation-free. There’s plenty of celebration here too. Structured around a typically kaleidoscopic Danger Mouse beat, “Going On” is all handclaps and whirring sounds pulled out of who-knows-where. And “Surprise” rides a retro bah-bah-bah hook to Shagadelic Party Central and back again.
Less jokey and more out-there than St. Elsewhere, The Odd Couple leaves its most inspirational moments tucked in the corners. The skittering “Open Book” combines a wailing Green vocal, a chorus of demons, and about a half-dozen different layered soundscapes, while “She Knows” floats atop a cloud of patchouli-scented folk. More than anything, The Odd Couple is about the tunefulness found between the beats. Danger Mouse may load up on old-school grooves, and Green delivers like a ‘60s or ‘70s soul shaker, but their hearts are with the hook. The record never forgets that, and Gnarls Barkley rarely finds reasons to upset that notion. Even when it’s probing some super-scarred psyches.