Sunday, March 30, 2008

Gnarls Barkley | The Odd Couple

There are no two ways around it: Gnarls Barkley would be Two-Face/Harvey Dent’s favorite band. There are transfixing (and ludicrous) non sequiturs, often counterpointed with bright arrangements and lyrical despair. Unlike their debut, Gnarls Barkley’s second album The Odd Couple lives solely in the deep end of the ocean. There is a desolate gloom cast above all the songs. The pall is so great that even the jovial moments are disturbing – an undertaker singing “Whistle While You Work.”

The album opens with “Charity Case,” Danger Mouse layering instrument over instrument, only to let them drop at the beginning of the first verse. Though Cee-Lo’s voice is present almost everywhere on the track, including the background vocals, he feels almost absent. It’s in the tone of his vocals, dark and lost, exhausted, gasping for life. Rather than drain the album of energy, this adopted aura powers songs to become portraits of anguish. Or as Bukowski would say, grooves of ordinary madness.

“Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)” (video above, with Justin Timberlake as a VJ) doesn’t stray far from the distress in other tunes, but bumps the BPMs close to defibrillator levels. In fact, British health officials conducted the epilepsy test on the video and it failed. It has since been edited. (Warning: it’s still funky.) But what are we running from? Cee-Lo says there’s “a beast at bay,” but is the beast him? The ascending chords accost and the rapid hi-hat programming resembles a chase without resolve.

Unanswered questions characterize most of the songs. The cheery psychedelia in “Blind Mary” only serves to underscore how twisted the story is while “Neighbors” confronts identity crisis with Cee-Lo’s wails. Both tunes are stories only halfway told. The lack of resolution only confirms the instability of the narrators, but never of the music. No, there isn’t another “Crazy” hit, but who cares? This is pop music of the highest order, paranoia included.

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