Gnarls Barkley, 'The Odd Couple' (Downtown/Atlantic)

6
The Odd Couple
Critical Mass
Label: Downton/Atlantic

by Will Hermes

In 2006, two avantgarde hip-hoppers -- a producer known for DJ'ing in a mouse costume and a Dirty South MC who abandoned a legendary crew to make psychedelic soul and wear a pink feather boa -- released a little indie project. Suddenly, shit was crazy. Or, to be specific, "Crazy": that year's Great Pop Moment, a song that topped charts worldwide and propelled sales of the little indie project, St. Elsewhere, past the two million mark.So what would you do if you were Gnarls Barkley? You know damn well what you'd do: try to duplicate the recipe. Which is roughly what Cee-Lo Green and Brian "DangerMouse" Burton have done on their sophomore set.The title is a little misleading, though. By now, the squat, thuggish MC who indulges his introspective, manic-depressive side and the lanky, mild-mannered studio geek who reveres Jay-Z have met halfway, and one of the remarkable things about The Odd Couple is its seamlessness. "Who's Gonna Save My Soul," slo-mo hip-hop blues that recalls Portishead (a group both men have cited as a shared love), has Cee-Lo testifying like an unsaved Al Green: "I wonder if I'll live to grow old, now / Gettin' high 'cause I feel so low-down," while a martial drumbeat pounds and an organ moans beneath him. And on "Run," a Memphis-flavored workout with a shout-studded chorus echoing both the Bar-Kays' "Soul Finger" and Radiohead's "15 Step," Cee-Lo rides handclaps and horn stabs like a scary preacherman in a backwoods church: "Hurry, little children, run this way / I have got a beast at bay." In the same way, "Surprise" and "She Knows" are perfect blends of '60s AM radio pop and '70s reggae ambience: Call it dubblegum.Danger Mouse's arrangements are so sublimely strange it barely matters that the songs don't all stick or that nothing radiates the instant-megahit magic of "Crazy." On the surface, The Odd Couple is basically a more refined St. Elsewhere, without the rap aberrations ("Transformer," "Feng Shui") or goofy covers ("Gone Daddy Gone") that made the debut such a wild, bumpy ride. Thing is, that stylistic recklessness was part of Elsewhere's thrill. Cee-Lo is a charismatic singer, limited voice notwithstanding. But he's a world-class rapper, and it's frustrating that, like his childhood buddy André 3000, he's perversely refusing to play MC. There was a sense on St. Elsewhere that the music could go absolutely anywhere. Here, you know where it's headed.But that's ultimately nitpicking. The Odd Couple is still a parti-colored R&B pop trip pretty much unlike anything else out there. If the bar was set too high the first time, the twosome have got only themselves to blame.Now Watch This: "Run"

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