Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

After reading my earlier post on The Grey Album by Danger Mouse, you may have downloaded it, liked it, then began to wonder where else you could hear his work.  Earlier this year, while TB and I were visiting her family in Chicago, my cousin-in-law, Kevin, told me about an album entitled St. Elsewhere by a group named Gnarls Barkley.

Neither the album name nor the group name meant anything to me at the time but I can always trust Kevin and my brother-in-law, the same brother-in-law here visiting this week, to continue pushing me toward the musical edge given their eclectic and expansive musical tastes.  We don’t always agree but they’ve introduced to me to enough good music that I don’t mind taking their advice.  If nothing else, it always gives us something to debate at the next family gathering.

When I returned home, I decided to research Gnarls Barkley (once I figured out how to spell it).  Lo and behold, one of the group members is DJ Danger Mouse.  The other is rapper Cee-Lo.  You already know how I feel about Danger Mouse’s talents.  Cee-Lo is probably one of the most unique, talented and creative acts in hip-hop.  From his early days as frontman for Atlanta-based Goodie Mob, to jamming alongside Lauryn Hill on (Carlos) Santana’s wildly successful Supernatural, there is not too many places Cee-Lo won’t go artistically, which says a lot in today’s formulaic, mainstream-induced musical climate.

Right off the bat, the first track, “Go-Go Gadget Gospel,” lets the listener know s/he is about to embark on a high-energy, tour de force of musical alchemy.  (You remember Inspector Gadget, right?)

The next track, “Crazy,” is my favorite.  The arrangement and sound is superb.  You can really hear how Danger Mouse built upon the foundation he created with The Grey Album by how perfectly all the song’s elements blend together.  Cee-Lo is out there on the edge, where he is very much at home, just singing his heart out.  Are rapper’s supposed to sing?  “St. Elsewhere” is another track with a great sound and Cee-Lo doing his thing.

They rock out just a little too much for my tastes on “Gone Daddy Gone.”  The next few tracks return to solid production and easy grooves with Cee-Lo’s vocals front-and-center.  At times I wish he would sing less and rap more but I remind myself this is Gnarls Barkley not Cee-Lo.  Just when I start missing the old Cee-Lo, howver, along comes “Feng Shui” featuring Cee-Lo, the rapper, at his best.  It’s short-lived as “Just a Thought” reverts to Cee-Lo the soul man.

Skipping to “Who Cares,” one finds another example of Danger Mouse’s production abilities and elements of Cee-Lo from his solo album days.  What “Online” lacks in length it makes up for in pure funkiness.  That song would give any Dr. Dre production a run for its money.  The next track of interest is “Storm Coming” which is excellent treadmill music.  It has lots of energy and a pumping beat though the lyrical content is unimpressive.  No one really cares about lyrics when on a treadmill anyway.  “The Last Time” borrows heavily from the 70s disco era — that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Anachronistic as it may be, it is an excellent ending to the album introducing the world to Gnarls Barkley.

Starting with Supernatural, Cee-Lo has been doing his best to grow beyond the rapper label.  Since The Grey Album, Danger Mouse has been doing his best to grow as a DJ and producer.  If St. Elsewhere is any indication, I believe both have succeeded.

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