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Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple

What do you do when your debut single achieves a kind of unprecedented, global success that you know you can never repeat? That question looms over the second collaborative album by producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton and vocalist Thomas Callaway, better known as Cee-Lo Green. Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple arrives two years after Crazy, a song that did substantially better business than an eerie mediation on mental illness had any right to. In Britain it was deleted while still at the top of the charts: it had been there nine weeks. It won awards and endured more grisly cover versions than any recent chart hit, amazingly surviving the ministrations not just of a duetting Nelly Furtado and Charlotte Church, but Paris Hilton, the Kooks and ghastly operatic man-band G4 with its credibility intact. The accompanying album, St Elsewhere, was haunting and eclectic: it sold a million copies in the US alone, while making it clear there was no more where that came from.

There was something indefinable about Crazy's appeal. Attention could be drawn to its unique conjunction of musical styles, Green's startling star·tle  
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles

v.tr.
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.

2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten.
 vocal performance, its brutally spare construction and the duo's attention-grabbing habit of dressing up in Star Wars costumes or Clockwork Orange garb or nappies, without really getting to the bottom of what made it so spellbinding spell·bind  
tr.v. spell·bound , spell·bind·ing, spell·binds
To hold under or as if under a spell; enchant or fascinate.



[Back-formation from spellbound.
. You could waste the rest of your life attempting to recapture that kind of magic and success: mercifully, Green and Burton seem uninterested in doing either.

One critic has called The Odd Couple's first single, Run, "a blushing rush of giddy joy", which does make you wonder what kind of cloth his ears are made from. Run sounds like a cross between a mid-60s Motown record and a debilitating de·bil·i·tat·ing
adj.
Causing a loss of strength or energy.


Debilitating
Weakening, or reducing the strength of.

Mentioned in: Stress Reduction
 panic attack panic attack
n.
The sudden onset of intense anxiety, characterized by feelings of intense fear and apprehension and accompanied by palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, and trembling. Also called anxiety attack.
, on which every sound is pushed slightly beyond the comfort zone. The percussion is too loud, the backing singers too squawky, the urgency in Green's voice too close to anxiety. Nor are they exactly trying to entice the less committed listener with a charming chorus: it literally shrieks "Run away! Run for your lives!" It's a great record, but it seems unlikely to receive the attentions of Nelly Furtado and Charlotte Church in the near future.

It also sets the tone for the album, which, if not the most depressing record ever made, is certainly the most depressing ever made by a rotund man given to wearing a nappy in public. The closest The Odd Couple comes to levity lev·i·ty  
n. pl. lev·i·ties
1. Lightness of manner or speech, especially when inappropriate; frivolity.

2. Inconstancy; changeableness.

3. The state or quality of being light; buoyancy.
 is A Little Better. This, it should be noted, is a song about Green's parents -dying. For all the kaleidoscopic influences - Surprise borrows from garage rock, Ennio Morricone, Latin rhythms, harmony-laden soft pop, drum'n'bass and Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's haunting 1967 B-side Summer Wine in under four minutes - the production is grimily opaque. Everything except the bass, drums and Green's voice appears to be happening somewhere off in the middle distance. The lyrics touch on self-harm, nihilism nihilism (nī`əlĭzəm), theory of revolution popular among Russian extremists until the fall of the czarist government (1917); the theory was given its name by Ivan Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons (1861).  and loneliness. "How are you?" asks the opening track, Charity Case, adding: "I'm not doing so good." Really? You'd never guess.

This would a rough ride, were it not for the album's surfeit sur·feit  
v. sur·feit·ed, sur·feit·ing, sur·feits

v.tr.
To feed or supply to excess, satiety, or disgust.

v.intr. Archaic
To overindulge.

n.
1.
a.
 of beautiful melodies, its musical invention, and, often, Green's lyrics. Who's Gonna Save My Soul? is a despondent but remarkable exploration of the convoluted relationship between artist and audience. It questions the solipsism sol·ip·sism  
n. Philosophy
1. The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.

2. The theory or view that the self is the only reality.
 of the fan who "lives vicariously" through their record collection. Equally, it makes the experience of witnessing a favourite band going off the boil sound as agonising as heartbreak.

When discussing Gnarls Barkley, it's traditional to mention the array of projects with which Burton involves himself - everything from the dreamy country-rock of Sparklehorse to underground rapper Busdriver - but listening to Who's Gonna Save My Soul, it's equally hard not to be struck by the multiplicity of collaborators his partner has encountered. As a songwriter, Green's biggest hit to date is the nadir for womankind wom·an·kind  
n.
Women considered as a group.


womankind
Noun

all women considered as a group

Noun 1.
 that was the second Pussycat Dolls single: the man who so brilliantly lays bear the fragility of musical obsession here also encouraged a collection of former glamour models, burlesque burlesque (bûrlĕsk`) [Ital.,=mockery], form of entertainment differing from comedy or farce in that it achieves its effects through caricature, ridicule, and distortion. It differs from satire in that it is devoid of any ethical element.  dancers and Popstars contestants to pose the deathless question, "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" It's rather like discovering that the guy who writes the headlines for Nuts - BOOBS BOOBS Bunch of Outrageous Breast Cancer Survivors  OF BRITAIN! CRIKEY Crikey is an independent Australian electronic magazine comprising an open access website and an email newsletter available to subscribers. Well known in Australian political, media and business circles, Crikey's influence extends beyond its subscriber base (more than 14,000  THEY'RE NAUGHTY! - also edits the International Journal of Existential Literature.

You could reasonably argue that a depiction of music as an endless source of misery and disappointment is pretty much the last thing you want to hear from a musician. If so, you're likely to be among the people happy to file Gnarls Barkley away as one-hit wonders. But you would be missing out. There's no doubt The Odd Couple is hard work, but it pays off.
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Author:guardian.co.uk
Publication:guardian.co.uk
Date:Mar 28, 2008
Words:795
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