Artist: Gnarls Barkley
Album: The Odd Couple
Comments: When we last left our heroes Ceelo Green and Danger Mouse, the gruesome twosome behind Gnarls Barkley and the best soul album of 06 in St. Elsewhere, they were riding high off the success of “Crazy,” playing the festival circuit and winning critical acclaim left and right for their album of soupy-smooth soul songs mixing hip-hop production and songs about mental illness, anger, loneliness and detachment.
Despite the dark subject matter of St. Elsewhere, Green’s delivery always suggested that his tongue was a little more in his cheek than he wanted to let on. He wasn’t really depressed, and when he told us that we might be crazy, he never really meant it.
On their follow-up album, the dense and cloudy The Odd Couple, Green and Danger Mouse dive deeper into the depths of insanity and depression, meaning the smiles aren’t as easy this time around. The songs, while a little less fun than the ones on their 06 record, are ultimately more rewarding and, as time will probably tell, better over-all.
Where as St. Elsewhere started off with a triumphant blast of gospel-funk, The Odd Couple kicks off with a whimper on “Charity Case,” a slow burning soul song with a dark, vaguely sexy feeling. The song establishes the album-wide theme of confusion and paranoia, presumably over Ceelo’s newfound fame. “I don’t understand how I’m so understanded” Green croons.
Indeed, isolation and lonesomeness in the face of national acclaim is the name of the game on this album. How much of this is based on Green’s real-life feelings is a question that only he can answer, but the man has never sounded better than he does on this album. Some people claimed that St. Elsewhere was really Danger Mouse’s triumph and Green was just along for the ride, but the same cannot be said of The Odd Couple. Green screams, croons, whines and coaxes with a confidence that stands in stark contrast to his self-deprecating and frightened lyrics.
Tracks like “Who’s Gonna Save my Soul” and “Surprise” establish Green as one of, if not the best male soul singer on the market today. With a classic ascetic and a modern sound, Green is the real deal.
Still, Danger Mouse is as impressive as ever. His cloudy production matches Green’s paranoia perfectly; one could probably get the same overall emotion from listening to an instrumental version of this album. Danger Mouse’s strength has always been his ability to mix classic samples and snippets with strong hooks that get stuck in the head, and he continues that trend here. One of the best songs on the album, and the DJ’s best production work to date, is on “Surprise,” which mixes surf-pop and soul music shockingly well and hints at what a Marvin Gaye / Beach Boys collaboration might have sounded like.
While there is nothing as immediately catchy as “Crazy” to be found on this record, the lead single “Run” is almost as good. Overproduced and overblown, the track is big in all the right ways. Featuring hand claps, synth breakdowns, and some titanic vocals from Green, the track is far and away the best dance song of ’08.
While the CD does drag a little on the second half, and some songs do sound repetitive, The Odd Couple is a declaration from Gnarls Barkley that the “super group” is more than a flash in the pan. They are the real deal. If the two artists can keep this up, they’re bound to re-invent how we think of soul music in the 21st century.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Charity Case, Run, Suprise, Blind Mary
Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy