I purchased the new Gnarls Barkley album this week the second it was available. I was a big hip-hop (back then we called it rap) fan when I was in highschool. I have to admit, I think the genre has slipped a lot since then. Back then, it was the new ‘anti’. It was more rock than rock and roll. If you were a rebel, you listened to rap as much as you listened to grunge. When I was younger they didn’t rap about Cadillac Escalades and stock portfolios. They rapped about selling drugs, getting beat down by the cops and living on the street. Ironically, it was from this very same lifetime that Gnarls vocalist Cee-lo (Thomas Callaway) first emerged. Cee-lo first entered the music scene as part of the Atlanta hip-hop group Goodie Mob which had a large hand in the Dirty South Movement of the 1990s. He left the group after their third album to embark on his solo career in 1999. After releasing 2 of his own albums he eventually parlayed his individual success into what is now Gnarls Barkley. Combining his unique style with multi-instrumentalist and producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) from New York, who was straight off a successful stint for his work on Gorillaz‘ Grammy winning album Demon Days that was preceded by his Grey Album, which blended samples from Jay-Z‘s The Black Album and the Beatles‘ White Album. No one wants to call an album a ‘sure-thing’ in the music industry anymore but the combination of the two enormous talents was as close as you could get. Downtown Records knew they had a hit on their hands when Danger Mouse presented them with the song Crazy. After sealing the deal with two Grammy awards in 2007 for Best Urban/Alternative Performance (“Crazy”) and Best Alternative Music Album (St. Elsewhere), the rest you could say is history.
So you ask, what is the new album like? Well, in my humble opinion, it is every bit as good if not much better than the first. It is known throughout the music industry that there are few things more difficult than releasing a sophomore album that can live up to the success of a great first album. On Gnarls new album, the Odd Couple, it feels like they have found their sound and also become totally confident with their style. The mixing on the album is some of Danger Mouse’s finest work so far. Cee-lo’s vocals harken back to the glory days of Motown, with a touch of roaring 20’s vaudevillian panache. I cannot stop listening to track 4, ‘Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)’. Don’t get me wrong though, great songs abound on this album and you can easily sit down and listen from start to finish with zero disappointment in between.
I felt on their last album that since the project was a bit of an experiment, some of the songs were over reaching and hit or miss. The Odd Couple is no experiment, it is an exercise in confident bravado. As an old friend of mine used to say, usually right before we were almost arrested, “It’s all good”. That exactly what the new Gnarls Barkley album is. With cover art commissioned by Big Active and completed with loving artistic care by rising-star designer Siggi Eggertson, it may even be an album that inspires you to refrain from downloading and actually make a much needed pilgrimage to the record store.
No one paid me to say this, download or not, go buy it now and be happy. It will make you so.