Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

Posted March 28, 2008

Is Gnarls Barkley hip-hop? No, at least not by most standards. But hip-hop at its very core...

The Odd Couple Album Review

Is Gnarls Barkley hip-hop? No, at least not by most standards. But hip-hop at its very core has always been about creating something out of nothing, taking the old and used and transforming it into something shockingly new, and in that sense Gnarls is about as hip-hop as a fresh pair of Adidas. Besides, any group consisting of a Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse deserves automatic inclusion into the DJBooth family. Anyone who’s first introduction to Cee-Lo was via Crazy might be surprised to learn that the round mound of rhyme was a founding member of the dirty south movement. Cee-Lo ripped mics with seminal A-Town group Goodie Mob for years, but even at his dirtiest he constantly pushed against hip-hop’s often rigid boundaries. Similarly, Danger Mouse first became a household name (at least in my house) for his genre-bending abilities after he dropped the Grey Album, a genius blend of the Beatles White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album. Sure, on a surface level they couldn’t be more different; one’s a skinny white guy with a quasi-afro and the other’s a short bald black man, but on a deeper level the duo is more like a couple of odd people than an odd couple.

Let’s get one thing straight, The Odd Couple is not that strange of an album. Hell, it’s not even the strangest album I’ve heard in the last two weeks. The duo’s debut album St. Elsewhere was exhilaratingly schizophrenic, fluctuating wildly from darkly brooding covers of 80’s songs to frantic electro-gospel, which makes The Odd Couple almost tame by comparison. Throughout the album Danger Mouse returns to the same sonic themes, layering genuine 60’s soul with psychedelic rock and flashes of modernity, over and over again. Take the introductory song off The Odd Couple, the bouncing Charity Case. Within the first thirty seconds we’re presented with a chain gang chant (ooh, ah!), bass lines weaving in and out of a xylophone melody and a swinging beat, all interspersed with computerized samples. It may sound complex on paper, but Danger is the producer that producer’s admire precisely because he’s able to seamlessly combine opposite ends of the audio spectrum. And tying it all together is Cee-Lo, who on The Odd Couple has now become fully immersed in his impossible-to-duplicate, high-pitched version of Sam Cooke soul (see his heartbreaking blues vocals on Who’s Gonna Save My Soul). All that daring somehow results in a creative stew that’s at first breathtaking, but by the end of the album has become normal, not tired, but comfortable. Like what I imagine skydiving to be like if you did it every day.

Cee-Lo may have kept his MC resume at home for The Odd Couple, but that doesn’t mean he left his lyrical expertise at the door. His most notable talent, if you can call it that, is the ability to embed even the brightest sounding harmonies with an undercurrent of disquiet and impending doom. Run, the seizure-inducing lead single off The Odd Couple, sounds at first listen to be simple and contagiously danceable, something in the vein of Outkast’s Hey Ya, but then you realize the chorus consists entirely of a panicked, “Run awat! Run children, run for your life!” Like the moment of calm in a horror movie just before the killer grabs the heroine, The Odd Couple is full of such false tranquility. Blind Mary begins with a circus organ atmosphere and the sweetly simple lines, “I love Mary, Mary marry me.” It seems even sweeter when we learn Mary is blind, until Cee-Lo tells us he loves Mary’s blindness because ”she has no idea I’m ugly.” In Gnarls Barkely’s world even the brightest days are tinged with sadness, and the darkest nights lined with hope, and their music walks the line between depressive surrender and unbound optimism.

The Odd Couple is far less exciting then the groundbreaking St. Elsewhere, but what it has lost in edge it’s gained in depth. That doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional gasp-inducing moment, Open Book was apparently recorded in a rainforest full or violin players, but on the whole…I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. Cee-Lo, as down as I am with Gnarls Barkely, pick up a damn mic man! You’ve consistently been my pick for most underrated rapper alive, but it’s getting hard to defend your MC skills with no new material. I’m begging you, please! If I only had a few words left in this review, and I do, those words would make you rhyme again. How about it? The world awaits your answer.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted March 28, 2008
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