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Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

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Artist: Gnarls Barkley

Album: St. Elsewhere

Label: Downtown

Review date: May. 21, 2006

“If you’re wonderin’ what it look like, look at me…”

And with that warning, we’re off and running through the streets of St. Elsewhere, the first full-length collaboration between Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo, collectively known as Gnarls Barkley.

Gnarls waste no time getting right down to it, as “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” starts out their long player with a resounding splash of color. Hand claps and horns spray through Danger Mouse’s programmed beats while Cee-Lo’s croons and melismas cut through the track. “Gospel” is just that; painting a flourishing vignette of a church bursting at the seams with the energy of pastor Cee-Lo belting from the pulpit with his 30-person choir in tow. It’s dangerous business starting off a record with a track this good. How can you keep up the momentum?

Well, the answer is Gnarls don’t, and instead “Crazy” kick starts with a stuttered snare and plucked bass line that dribbles around the track’s introspective timbre. The melancholic string arrangement soon arrives, cradling the surprising range of Cee-Lo’s voice, and it becomes immediately apparent that St. Elsewhere is a more intricate album than it might initially seem. “Gospel” and “Crazy” are an interesting choice of openers as they are aesthetically quite different. But there’s a string of continuity here the way Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” connects to “Georgia On My Mind.”

By far, “Crazy” is St. Elsewhere’s most ambitious effort, and while most of the remaining tracks are not quite the same caliber, there are a few that maintain Gnarls’ signature charm. “Gone Daddy Gone,” a Violent Femmes cover, reprises the quirky pulse of the album opener, and while it might have functioned well as a stand-alone single, it somehow falls flat in context of the rest of the record. The strength of St. Elsewhere lies in the risks, and Danger’s production on tracks like “Gone” and “Boogie Monster” is unfortunately pretty safe. The samples used throughout the record are often creatively used, but there are times when it feels like Danger is holding back, and letting the sample do too much of the work.

“Just a Thought” rekindles Danger’s creativity, and the synergy that is Gnarls Barkley once again bubbles forth. A classical guitar riff glides across a barrage of cymbals and drums, allowed to run rampant momentarily before being choked back like the depression Cee-Lo sings about: “It’s even dark in the daytime / It’s not just good, it’s great depression / When I was lost I even found myself / Looking in the gun’s direction.”

At its best, St. Elsewhere pushes boundaries in ways that only Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo could concoct. It may fall short a few instances, but it’s a record with genuine ingenuity, something that the genre-bending Zeitgeist often leaves behind.

By Chris Tabron

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