The Odd Couple
I can't believe I find myself in 2008 writing about Gnarls Barkley, not because I think they are a worthless pop act; in fact they are one of the few worthy ones. "Crazy" is possibly the only song of now that people will still be singing into the next decade, surely at weddings and high school reunions, but I have witnessed an R&B cover band make a stab at it in a smoky, sparsely populated club, and those folks never let go of a song. It's just that I had them pegged as being the next great participator in the sophomore slump, but here on their second record named for an outmoded TV show (I wonder what kind of wig Cee-Lo will rock for The Golden Girls, which assuredly is in the pipeline. Also, M*A*S*H is the obvious name for the eventual remix record) they are tight as Felix Unger's asshole, parading a mix of spot-on pop frills over a bed of sultry melancholy.
On The Odd Couple, the group makes exactly that: odd bedfellows are organized out of stale easy listening and post-everything processing. The obvious hits should be addressed first. "Run" is Quincy Jones boogie, Supremes hands out shimmy and Aretha Franklin gospel soul power all condensed for the can't-get-over-Austin-Powers set. Meaning that its 60s percolations are obvious as hell, but they feel weirdly fresh, like the way a Twinkie does when you crack open the seal. "Going On" is even better with a similar organ grinding its way under those handclaps and beats as Cee-Lo colds sweats classic I-gotta-go empty promises to wait for the girl that just can't hang. Danger Mouse's production is perfectly plastic, or maybe vinyl is the correct substrate, given the predominance of crackle in this record.
The song that I hope really takes over is "Who's Gonna Save My Soul." I had fear they were going to give Jewel's saccharine classic the business like they did with Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone" on the last record, but not, it's an honest question pondered over a dark Spanish guitar-touched groove one could picture Nina Simone sashaying through.
The rest of the record swings with similar ecclesiastic dexterity. The opener "Charity Case" is as much Radiohead as it is Astrud Gilberto, understanding, like both those artists, that the sun shines all the brighter when refracted in a teardrop. "Open Book" and "Would Be Killer" are both dark numbers that reminds me all the world of Tricky when he was at his hyperventilated, urban noir peak. "Whatever" is their simulacrum of classic mod insouciance, while "Surprise" shares traits with the bleached out soul of groups like The Lettermen.
Really, there is nary a bum track here, but there is a homogeneity in the overall sound that makes the songs in the latter half fall a little flat, only because you totally get it already by the time they come around. The ballad "No Time Soon" is exhausting in its hodgepodge of pop memorabilia. It's like having someone show you their entire vintage lunchbox collection; it looks great from across the room, but the details are only of interest to the collector. But let me reiterate, each number here will sound brilliant when it slides out of a restaurant of hair salon sound system, and unlike most other things that do so, it might even have a longer life than the meal or the haircut.
Get it while its hot on their myspace.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com