Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gnarls Barkley / "The Odd Couple"

Danger Mouse first entered the public conscious in 2004 with the brilliant "Grey Album", where he famously (and illegally) put the rhymes from Jay-Z's "Black Album" over beats composed from sampling the Beatles' "White Album". The next year, he produced successful and acclaimed albums for MF Doom (under the combined alias DangerDoom) and Gorillaz. However, his fame hit new heights when he combined with soul singer Cee-Lo Green to form funk/soul/pop duo Gnarls Barkley.

The group hit the ground running with the outstanding single "Crazy" helping their debut "St. Elsewhere" to chart success and critical acclaim. It was an album where it seemed both members held nothing back. It was this willingness to openly experiment which lead both to the pop brilliance of tracks like "Crazy" and "Gone Daddy Gone", but also made for a record that was overall very scattershot.

Now returning with their sophomore effort, Gnarls Barkely seem to have sedated what made them "Crazy" in the first place. "The Odd Couple" is a far departure from "St. Elsewhere", a darker and more soulful affair, but at the cost of energy, hooks, and immediacy. This approach makes the record more consistent, true, but it also makes it more consistently boring.

While the album is not a failure, it's also far from a success. The duo, in a very surprising move, appear content to create the set-up for numerous great songs while failing to generate any. The closest they get to the heights of the best tracks from "St. Elsewhere" is "Run" (video above). That's not to say it's a very impressive song; it isn't. The beat is simple, and it never builds to much more than Cee-Lo shout-singing the refrain. Some of the other better songs are also less impressive when thought about in the context of their producer. Soul song "Who's Gonna Save My Soul" sounds like a "Demon Days" (the Gorillaz album which Danger Mouse also produced) outtake with Cee-Lo replacing Damon Albarn on vocals.

Gnarls Barkley got themselves stuck in a catch-22. If they didn't tweak their sound at all, the album would be written off as a re-hash. In this case, they changed it and the change was for the worse. I'll give it to them that the soulful approach succeeds on "Neighbors", but if a change produces two good-not-great tracks and eleven average-or-worse ones was it really a change worth making? Is it really an album worth investing time and money in? Right now, I have to answer no to both questions.

Rating: 5.2

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