From the go-go gadget get-go, Gnarls Barkley never seemed like an act that would live beyond a single album. Both Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse keep pretty busy on their own, the latter in particular, given that he’s produced records for the likes of everyone from The Rapture (just a couple of songs, though) to The Black Keys. Still, that one album was pretty amazing, bouncing from wall to wall with two-minute explosions of difficult to classify, yet easy to enjoy indie-hip-pop. Brief, bubbly and endlessly fun, it had the feel of a summer fling rather than a long-term thing. And that would have been okay.
As it turns out, two years later, Gnarls Barkley are still together and offer up a second album, one with another TV inspired title, no less. The Odd Couple is an interesting step forward for Gnarls Barkley, not in that it strays too far from St. Elsewhere‘s stylistic path, but in that the extremes have been softened and exposed to unveil greater subtleties within each song. Until now, subtlety never seemed like Gnarls Barkley’s forte, but this slightly more mature, slightly slower, still catchy as all-get-out album is a dandy.
Something’s up from track one, “Charity Case,” a decidedly more subdued track than previous album opener “Go Go Gadget Gospel.” With low-key organ and glockenspiel samples, Cee-Lo is given minimal backing, drawing greater attention to his soulful yelps. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” is a curiosity primarily because it’s a single. It’s a cool sounding song, warm and trippy, but a bit mellow for radio. On the other hand, “Going On,” with hand-clappy rhythms and a hooky melody that’s not likely to leave one’s head anytime in the near future, seems like a natural. Alas, not a single, but a hell of a song. “Run,” on the other hand, is a single, and its high speed soul momentum gives it away as such. Here, DM and Cee-Lo begin to show us traces of the duo we heard the first time out, which reminds us that, in spite of a more laid-back, sophisticated sound, these cats can still shake it.
“Would Be Killer” is dark and stoned, yet classic Gnarls regardless. The snotty “Whatever” has Cee-Lo in the role of bratty teenager, snapping “shut up, Mom!” and lamenting, “I’m alone almost everyday.” Goofy, certainly, but humor has always been a big part of the Gnarls equation, whether blatant or less immediately apparent. “Surprise,” however, is the result of what happens when this duo gets everything just right. With some ’60s-style choral samples, some bossanova breakdowns and a superb chorus (there’s just about one for every song), this track is easily one of their best.
I doubt I’m the only one to have assumed that Gnarls Barkley was a one-time outing, but they’ve not only stuck around to prove me wrong, they made a pretty darn good album in the process of doing so. The Odd Couple lacks that initial `holy crap’ feeling of hearing something so exciting and unique for the first time, which was more or less the basis of St. Elsewhere. Yet Gnarls Barkley have moved past novelty and into sustaining a worthwhile career, and this album is a step in the right direction.
The Go! Team – Proof of Youth
Gorillaz – Demon Days
Cee-Lo – Cee-Lo Green Is the Soul Machine
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.