Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere
2006
B+



gnarls Barkley. Two silly bastards. You’d be forgiven for writing them off on name alone. Cee-Lo Green’s a bowl-headed Buddha, a port of mis-shapen wizardry, squashing his creaky falsetto into hybrid sequences of funk, soul, gospel and pre-crunk ATL hip-hop during his two great post-Goodie Mob solo albums.

Danger Mouse? Well, I guess there was The Grey Album, a herm and a hum but ultimately more blog novelty than lasting artifact, while many—this gent withstanding—thought he overwrought Doom’s subcellar rhymes last year with his bubbly production. I’m sorry; I still can’t talk about Gorillaz.

Then there were the press photos. The duo’s eyebrow-arching send-ups of Clockwork Orange, Napoleon Dynamite, and Cheech and Chong. Danger Mouse, a three-inch dig in his ‘fro, playing Napoleon? A thick mop on Cee-Lo’s head for spliff-sparkin’ Cheech? I hear you. Can we get a whaddafuc?

Advance press aside, you shouldn’t avoid the duo’s debut for the mess around its birth. Sure, “Gone Daddy Gone,” even in its queer electro relapse, probably should have been a g-side for one of the record’s singles. I’ll admit too that the idea Cee-Lo has given suicide serious contemplation (“Just a Thought”)—especially a thought so selfish up against the Sao Paolo-cum-Motown vibe here—is patently absurd, whereas “It’s deep how you can be so shallow” is the dichotomy of irony in Ernie and Bert proportions (“Who Cares”). And necrophilia (“Necromancing”) is a gag for the thin; fat people fucking the dead is, like, worse.

But these are fragile faults for an album as vibrant and thick with sound as St. Elsewhere. We all know about “Crazy.” I hesitate to even mention it; the NME is still around, innit? Sure, it was the first single to reach number one on the UK charts from download-only sources. Those of us Soulseeking for fancies understood its psilocyberetic soulfulness last year. A thick caramel choir and Isaac Hayes-inspired strings rub soft against Cee-Lo’s patented falsetto spool, managing to find fault in God and glory in grace simultaneously—a trick Cee-Lo’s becoming increasingly adept at pulling off. The track is rigid with instrumental diversions; the bass’s barrel-roll intro, the quick start of Cee-Lo’s voice as draw, the smoove drowning strings, all the way to Phoenix and all the way back, Black Moses need not apply. With “Crazy,” the duo hits its apex without really shrouding the rest of the album.

Still, for me, “Crazy” would be enough to keep St. Elsewhere in consistent rotation were the album’s middle-third not so strong. “Smiley Faces” and its jumpy bass-line and creaking synths again show how dominant Cee-Lo can be in voice alone; Danger Mouse provides a bog, enough to drown out a song shorn of the idiosyncrasies of Cee-Lo’s, but he manages to pull himself up by the bootstraps to hover over the swampstink. “The Boogie Monster” finds the duo peeking through the forests on All Hallow’s Eve, all boogaloo and Wilkie Collins’ Victorian imagery couched in neo-soul and clanky beat touches. But wait, “the only thing that will bring me back alive woman / Is some good, good head” and Cee-Lo’s molasses-deep laugh? Did I hear that right?

“Who Cares” is Danger Mouse’s playground, even if it’s bound to get shredded for Cee-Lo’s aforementioned dud line. A Stax-worthy back chorus hums crass into crisp stabs of electric piano and a simple bass-beat; one can imagine Bootsy giving his bass-howl to the repeated “Who Cares” refrain. “On-Line” tracks the floating soul-jazz Ayers made famous, with its circling flute patterns and free-spine soft-funk flavor, while “Storm Coming” sounds like a tornadic interlude of Aphex Twin, Elmore James, Ry Cooder, Fats Domino, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Basinski—a fitting punch-up of the record’s myriad musical whosits.

With Cee-Lo working to finish the new Goodie Mob ‘reunion’ record and scouting for a label for his project with Jazze Pha and Danger Mouse helping the Rapture put the finishing touches on their next record—not to mention corralling Doom and the Adult Swim band for another go-round as DangerDoom—2006 will bring both to the fore again, but doubtfully for anything as willfully surreal as St. Elsewhere. Strange as fuck has a smell and a sound; it’s the wind coming through the right speaker during “Crazy,” but God knows what that scent is.

STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM RECOMMENDED ALBUM


Reviewed by: Derek Miller
Reviewed on: 2006-04-27
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