Album Review of 'The Odd Couple' by Gnarls Barkley.
At their best, Gnarls Barkley manage to effortlessly combine accessibility with gravitas. They are able to execute that cunning trick, common in much of the pop pantheon, of sneaking a song into the public consciousness whilst treating some seriously heavy rhythms and melodies with delicacy and aplomb.
During the sporadic moments on The Odd Couple where the horror-comedy of Danger Mouse's fuzzed up, treble heavy beats chime in unison with Cee-Lo's deeply affective gravel tones, you could be forgiven for thinking that popular soul music has finally been emancipated from the inescapable bubblegum-radio drawl of soul-lite lotharios such as Chris Brown and Nee-Yo.
Danger Mouse works best with Cee-Lo when he reigns himself in from the surreal cartoon aesthetic that worked for both the Gorillaz and Dangerdoom albums. The minimalist 60's lounge beats on opening tracks 'Charity Case' and 'Who's Gonna Save My Soul', complete with restrained double bass and tremolo guitar, provide just enough space for Cee-Lo to lay himself bare and show the handsome nu-soul boys how a true soul brother testifys.
"Open Book" is the least accessible track on the album and the one that most rewards repeated listening. The relentless staccato snare underpinning anxious strings hints at the flavour of dubstep, whilst Cee-Lo's ceaseless delivery in the verses and carnal howling in the chorus combine to make it the standout track. The bleepy, three-time drum stabs and gentle guitar in 'No Time Soon' find Cee-Lo in contemplative mood, stretching his formidable voice in a wide ark over the spacious, cathartic beat provided for him.
However, when this particular synergy is absent, they fail just as spectacularly as they succeed. At times, Cee-Lo is reduced to the role of comedy minstral, camping it up over music that comes dangerously close to being an irony-free ode to the Austin Powers movies. "Run (I'm a Natural Disaster)", which I am told is supposed to be a 'single of the year' contender' and preceding track 'Going On' is the sound of two very talented musicians lowering their standards in order to replicate former glories. The beats sound like leftovers from the Gorillaz cutting room floor, and the messy vocals evoke images of Cee-Lo uncomfortably grinning whilst twirling a cane or doing jazz hands. It's not an image I want.
The painful 'Whatever' has Cee-Lo playing a childish character he has nothing in common with, doing lots of 'ooh oohs' and 'la las' over Danger Mouse's brittle synth-led 60's pastiche. We are presented with an even greater waste of the pairs talents on 'Blind Mary'. Danger Mouse seems content to produce a Childrens TV theme that is more Telly Tubbies than Sesame Street. Cee-Lo's couplet 'she has never seen the sunshine / yet she's getting along just fine' is a far cry from the blistering MC we heard on his criminally overlooked solo record 'Cee-Lo Green.is the Soul Machine'.
Cee-Lo himself has said of The Odd Couple: "It's just bigger, badder, bolder and more arena-friendly". The problem here is that it's clearly audible that neither of the two particularly like arena friendly music. At its worst, The Odd Couple is the sound of out-and-out pop songs being performed through gritted teeth and thus woefully missing the mark. At its best, it's what popular music should be about, it has the ability to reach far and wide whilst retaining a depth that keeps you coming back. Here's hoping they focus on the latter for album No. 3.