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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

An Odd Couple indeed

Gnarls Barkley releases singles off new album

Published: February 29, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

dc02290805.jpgdc02290806.jpg Alternative/neo-soul/funk/rapper/everything-er Cee-Lo and wonder-boy producer Danger Mouse are back at it again.

Danger Mouse is the highly experimental, innovative and risky DJ from White Plains, New York. He is the mind behind such projects as The Grey Album (an amalgam of Jay-Z lyrics from The Black Album with sampled Beatles tracks from The White Album), the Gorillaz’ Demon Days and of course one half of Gnarls Barkley (with Cee-lo being the other half).

Cee-lo, the ultra-talented artist hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, is a member of Dungeon Family, the super group consisting of Cee-Lo, Big Boi, Andre of Outkast, and Sleepy Brown among others. The strange couple of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo have returned with their second album The Odd Couple.

Though little is known of the album besides the album cover and what can be scavenged from the new single entitled “Run” (which is actually a lot, read on), one can be sure that the blatant reference to the hit show The Odd Couple will definitely play a part in the storytelling, as was the case with their first album, St. Elsewhere.

For those who are new to Gnarls Barkley and merely know the group because of their roommate’s (or their own) compulsion to sing “Crazy” at random inappropriate times, the first album, St. Elsewhere, was a sonically mixed bag of funk, soul and just plain weird stuff. The black humor inherent to the album and the repeated inquiry into the relevance of life and the workings of the mind is a theme found throughout the television series St. Elsewhere.

For the greater majority of you that were not aware that there was ever a show entitled St. Elsewhere, there was. It was a drama based in a hospital. Life and death was often the subject of not only serious discussion, but also morbid humor throughout the show.

In addition, pertaining to the question of the relevance of the lives that people lead, a relatively nihilistic, kind of matrix-esque, and somewhat chilling ending to the show (I’ll let you wikipedia it for yourself) gives us the notion that, as Cee-Lo reminds us, despite all of one’s accomplishments in life, “Who Cares?”

The first single off of the new The Odd Couple album is an acoustic thrill ride. Danger Mouse puts us in the shoes of Charlie’s Angels, in the car seat next to Shaft. He gives us the spirit of the chase that one only finds in the best 70’s action movies. Cee-Lo’s vocals carry extremely well as always as he vocalizes simple, yet ominous lyrics, warning of the arrival of some “beast [he’s keeping] at bay.”

In “Run” one sees some considerable changes in style and delivery than what Gnarls Barkley has produced in the past. The focus of “Run” is seemingly more soul then substance. While the lyrical content is not nearly as clever, catchy, or easy to take in as “Crazy” or the following single “Smiley Faces,” Cee-lo’s vocals definitely gives listeners an extra strong dose of soul and adrenaline.

Looking back to the lyrics however, there is definitely a lot left unsaid, and therefore a lot to decipher. The songs puts us in the mind of someone who has been running so long from something that he is interested not in his final destination, nor the purpose of the chase, but in the running itself; the knowledge that whatever he’s running from has not caught up to him yet. The lyrics “Yeah it’s still the same, can’t you feel the pain, when the needle hits the vein…” clue us in to some substance abuse issues never directly spoken of in the song.

The lyrics that follow shortly after “These are the tear drops of the clown, circus is coming to town, all I’m saying is sometimes I’m more scared of myself,” also provide one with interesting information.

Considering the immediately apparent 70’s theme and Cee-Lo’s propensity for riddles (don’t believe me? Listen to “Who Cares?” off of St. Elsewhere) one can definitely see an inference to the song “Circus in the Sky,” sung by the group Blue Magic.

Blue Magic is the name that crime boss Frank Lucas, recently portrayed in the blockbuster movie American Gangster, gave to his heroin. So yeah… maybe, the song isn’t as simple as it seems. Or, as I’ll admit myself, I am a bit of a puzzle freak and I just went on a bit of an Odd Couple odyssey of my own.

Nonetheless, this new Gnarls Barkley project is definitely drawing a lot of attention and garnering a lot of interest.

The very clear, un-riddle ridden, truth in the title The Odd Couple is an homage to the joining of minds of two very weird individuals who have embraced one another’s oddities and joined together to make great music and, consequently, earn themselves international acclaim. Will lightning strike twice for The Odd Couple or that just too “Crazy” to happen? We’ll just have to wait and see.