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Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

FOR their follow-up to the critically acclaimed St Elsewhere, artist/producer Danger Mouse and vocalist Cee-Lo – aka Gnarls Barkley – have sought to take their playful creativity and expand its energy, soul and psychological complexity to create sophomore effort The Odd Couple. The result, while certainly funky, is only partially successful.

The album certainly gets off to a flyer, with the hypnotic Charity Case laying down a funky back-beat, some glockenspiel-laced melodies and a soulful set of Cee-Lo vocals that flirt outrageously with the style of OutKast. It’s similarly feel-good and every bit as hip as tracks like Hey Ya and a welcome place to become re-acquainted with them.

The laidback, slinky Who’s Gonna Save My Soul slows down the pace to nicely contrasting effect and is a terrific late night soul shuffle that finds Cee-Lo at his most longing and emotive (especially when delivering the lovelorn chorus of “who’s gonna save my soul now?”). Needless to say, Danger Mouse’s production values are impeccable, combining elements of melancholy Motown balladry with parched Delta blues.

Going On continues the impressive start to proceedings, quickening the pace once more amid handclap beats and chiming orchestration, while lead single Run is a real dancefloor filler and evidence of how, in Cee-Lo’s own words, The Odd Couple represents a “bigger, badder, bolder and more arena-friendly sound”. You absolutely cannot help shuffling along in giddy fashion and will be craving more.

It’s after this point, however, that things begin to get a little hit-and-miss. Would Be Killer drops a lazy beat and some warped, bluesy guitar riffs with a really gruff set of vocals and brings down the feel-good element. On its own merits, it provides evidence of Gnarls Barkley’s willingness to diversify, but coming so soon after the highs of Going On and Run it almost feels like a party spoiler. Still, the sampled moans and groans that accompany its final moments lend it a sexual element that’s suitably seductive.

Open Book, meanwhile, mixes stop-start beats and cinematic strings with a similarly melancholy/outraged set of vocals from Cee-Lo that are entwined with a gospel-like backing. It’s a heady brew that’s ambitious without being entirely successful.

Whatever elevates proceedings once more, however, with its playful lyrics (“I don’t have any friends at all”…. “I want everything to go my way”… “but it’s cool”) and old-school Motown vibe. The background “whoo hoos” bring a feel-good, sing-along capacity that’s tailor-made for capturing the big arena sound they’ve admitted to seeking.

Sunshine, meanwhile, cleverly juxtaposes its sunny backing vocals and Beach Boys-inspired hopefulness with some introspective lyrics about loneliness. It’s another firm favourite of mine.

No Time Soon took a couple of listens before properly engaging, and although Cee-Lo’s vocals aren’t quite as smooth as usual, the production values remain impressive and it’s one of the album’s growers, while She Knows trades some soothing flutes with a lively back beat to create another strong offering.

Blind Mary and Neighbors, though, aim for kooky and happy go-lucky but wind up being repetitive and lazy, especially lyrically. They’re not necessarily bad tracks but they don’t measure up to Gnarls Barkley’s highest standards. Final track A Little Better also underwhelms, when a really big finish would have served them much better.

That said, for all its flaws, The Odd Couple marks a successful return for the Gnarls Barkley partnership that retains their status as one of the coolest acts around. There’s plenty to admire and savour.

Download picks: Charity Case, Who’s Gonna Save My Soul, Going On, Run, Whatever, Surprise

Track listing:

  1. Charity Case
  2. Who’s Gonna Save My Soul
  3. Going On
  4. Run (I’m A Natural Disaster)
  5. Would Be Killer
  6. Open Book
  7. Whatever
  8. Surprise
  9. No Time Soon
  10. She Knows
  11. Blind Mary
  12. Neighbors
  13. Little Better