The Gnarls Barkley collaboration didn't bring producer Danger Mouse to the top of the British charts for the first time, but it did mark his debut as the pilot of a hit record. Mouse, born Brian Burton, first gained the ears of discriminating listeners when he concocted The Grey Album, a bootleg that mashed the vocals from The Black Album by Jay-Z with music samples courtesy of The White Album by EMI flagship the Beatles. Although the label posted a cease-and-desist order, one of their employees, Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, was one of the impressed, and he hired Burton to create the beats for the second Gorillaz album, Demon Days. Just one year later, Danger Mouse was back in the charts with another collaboration project, Gnarls Barkley, with singer Cee-Lo Green (a solo artist and former member of Atlanta's Goodie Mob). The pair had met in Atlanta in the late '90s, and began recording together around the time of a 2003 DM record titled Ghetto Pop Life. A few recordings were passed around and played by many associated with the pair, and eventually one of the leaked tracks, "Crazy," became a hot property for the download market. It became the first single vaulted to the top of the British charts by digital distribution, and the resulting album, St. Elsewhere, peaked at number one on the album charts. A follow-up was not long in coming; The Odd Couple dropped in early 2008.
© John Bush /TiVo
© John Bush /TiVo
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Pop - Released April 24, 2006 | WM UK
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Who is Gnarls Barkley, and how did he ascend to the top of the British charts with a song that brings an eerie clarity to the cloud of mental illness? (Hint: It wasn't just the fact that Britain began factoring download data into its chart equations.) If St. Elsewhere sounds like one of the best rap-based pop productions since the second Gorillaz album, then look no further than the common link, producer Danger Mouse. And if the vocal performances are twisted with the type of unbalanced wisdom not seen in pop music since Sly Stone (or at least OutKast), credit Cee-Lo Green, the former Goodie Mob seer/sage/freak. A pop album straight through, St. Elsewhere is as good as Danger Mouse's two earlier landmarks (Gorillaz's Demon Days and Danger Doom's The Mouse and the Mask), but not because of any inherent similarities in the three records. The reasons for greatness here include DM's uncommon facility for writing (or sampling) simple hooks that stick, his creation of productions that entertain but don't detract from the main action, and his ability to coax a parade of enticing vocal performances from Green. The hit "Crazy" and the title track are perfect examples. Over detached backings, Green croons, growls, scats, and generally delivers fine neo-soul vocals while Danger Mouse blankets the tracks with choruses of disembodied harmonies and a well-placed string section or crackling organ to conjure an appropriately minor chord atmosphere. The focus on instability doesn't end there -- paranoia, suicidal tendencies, and multiple personalities are all in the cards, and there's also "Necromancer": "She was cool when I met her, but I think I like her better dead." Then, just to make sure listeners understand this is a concept album and not a message from a mind playing tricks on itself, they drop "The Boogie Monster" (although even the lyrics here can give pause: "I used to wonder why he looked familiar, and then I realized it was a mirror"). With the help of Danger Mouse's platinum ear and intricate vocal productions, Green is revealed as a top-notch post-millennial soul singer. Even when he's floating another mass of wise, serene gibberish, DM simply drops another production trick to keep things tight. Much like DJ Shadow's Private Press, Danger Mouse relies on samples from the downcast end of obscure '60s pop -- prog, psych, and Italian soundtrack music (his most valuable lieutenant here, Daniele Luppi, has the requisite Italian connection). Although Gnarls Barkley topping the charts was a slight fluke, the excellence of St. Elsewhere could have been seen coming a mile away. © John Bush /TiVo
Pop - Released April 7, 2008 | WM UK
In a world where it's the norm to have a one-off collaboration between a producer and a rapper, something special has to happen to prompt a sequel. Of course, "Crazy" was all the prompting needed for Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse to rejuvenate Gnarls Barkley, their collaboration by mail that sparked the brightest and catchiest single since OutKast's "Hey Ya." But fans and critics have to understand that these two were exactly the types to walk away from a follow-up simply for the purpose of a cash-in, which makes that follow-up, The Odd Couple, such a strange proposition -- it's exactly like St. Elsewhere, and fails to reveal a single new thing. All the hallmarks of a follow-up record are here -- similar sounds and themes, for sure, but also a clear lack of innovation, lyrical and production touches that have since become clichés, and more than just a few passages that will prompt a severe case of listener déjà vu. (Of course, many listeners may enjoy that sense of déjà vu.) As before, Danger Mouse's productions are miniature, modernist spaghetti Westerns, very closely detailed whether their major voice is an acoustic guitar or a choir of unholy voices. These are then chained to amped-up beats and beefed-up basslines to create something that sounds both vintage and up to date, all at the same time. Cee-Lo's lyrics and vocals again reveal a lunatic (or seer) who's occasionally more lucid than the sane, an enlightened psychopath wrestling with his demons and revealing the thin line between being crazy and sensible. At times, The Odd Couple is a more beautiful record than its predecessor -- the duo has never put out anything more moving on a musical and emotional level than "Who's Going to Save My Soul," and Danger Mouse's production work outshines St. Elsewhere on one track ("Open Book"). But all too often Cee-Lo relies on the same sort of lyrical cipher as on St. Elsewhere, although none of them are as effective. "I don't understand how I'm so understanding"; "I'm goin' on, and I think they'll have a place for you too"; "I could be a would-be killer" -- these are the ramblings of a madman; they may sound deep and profound late at night, but they're revealed as nonsense with the light of day. © John Bush /TiVo
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