The Odd Couple
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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
As buzz-building maneuvers go, an early release has to be one of the safest and cheapest – not that Gnarls Barkley were exactly hurting for press after launching a thousand blogs with 2006’s St. Elsewhere, but whatever – and it’s paid off for the duo thus far, spreading Odd Couple release stories across the Web like a virus. (It’s also pissed off a few stuffed-shirt critics in the process, inflaming the oversensitive feelings of guys who are accustomed to hearing whatever comes out before everyone else, but again: Whatever.) All things considered, not a bad beginning for the sophomore album from what originally seemed like a goofy one-off side project for Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse.
The thing about goofy side projects that unexpectedly take off, of course, is that you can’t surprise people twice; what seems fresh the first time around can wind up getting you pigeonholed the next time you try it. Luckily for Gnarls Barkley, their gimmick, such as it is, relies less on any particular sound than its members’ overall willingness to ignore boundaries and expectations – and if you were worried that success might have spoiled them, good news: It hasn’t.
That being said, nothing on The Odd Couple offers as much in the way of immediate gratification as St. Elsewhere’s breakout hit, “Crazy”; though Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo still sound just as disconnected from current pop (and R&B…and hip-hop…and rock…and…) trends as they always have, their second full-length is denser and less forgiving than their first. Though they continue to rely on skewed humor to get their points across, there’s no warmth behind it, and the result is a claustrophobic, oddly disquieting collection of soul vocals and dance beats whose surface features have very little to do with soul or dance music.
For listeners who crave something different and don’t care how they get it, The Odd Couple will be a sweet breath of fresh air – and honestly, there’s absolutely no quibbling with the craftsmanship and sharp wit behind these songs, or the album’s perfect 39-minute length. For everyone else, however, listening to these songs will occasionally have a discombobulating effect – like a not-quite-nightmare about wandering an alien planet. This is about as interesting – as smart – as mainstream pop gets these days. That it still isn’t particularly friendly probably says something about the modern music industry, but why quibble? Difference for difference’s sake can be its own reward. Here’s your proof.