Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere

Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere

It’s not every day that wunderkind DJ Danger Mouse teams up with a well-respect figure in the indie scene – oh, wait. Sure, the trumpets of rarity don’t blare whenever Danger Mouse releases a new collaboration, but damn if the kid hasn’t put out some compelling stuff. Pair that with rapper/crooner Cee-Lo Green, and you have an album with the potential to be … well, pretty weird.

And boy, does St. Elsewhere deliver. Cee-Lo drops the chest-thumping romps of Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine, retreating instead into more introspective corners this time around. Album opener “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” starts off with what turns out to be an uncharacteristically carefree performance, featuring Cee-Lo crowing triumphantly over an Adderall-fueled beat, “I’m free!” “Crazy” smoothes things out a bit, Danger’s hi-hat-led groove plucking away below subdued “oohs” and a vocal melody that you could either cry or roller skate to, depending on your mood.

“St. Elsewhere” is really the star of the show, though. A syrupy soul beat slinks out of the ether, with Cee-Lo chanting somewhere above. One verse into the song, Mr. Green trades the chants for his trademark mosquito-falsetto and, later, throaty “oohs.” The mood is decidedly melancholic, but instead of allowing his emotion to steer the song into melodramatic territory, Cee-Lo harnesses his anguish in his soulful yelps. “Gone Daddy Gone” is a Violent Femmes cover that makes the potentially disastrous genre crossing with effortless style.

“Just a Thought” features the most blatantly downtrodden lyrics on the album. “And I’ve tried / everything but suicide / but it’s crossed my mind / just a thought,” cries Cee-Lo over pounding, skipping percussion. “Transformer” follows, refreshingly veering towards insanity of the upbeat type without totally forsaking the gloomy mood; a squeaky cartoon voice declares its intention to be itself, but it is met with a massive chorus of “No!” “Necromancer” and “The Last Time” round out a solid second half, one a creepy ode to dead brides and the other a breathtaking disco romp that conjures images of Cee-Lo standing onstage, decked out in a white suit with one of those old 70s microphones, crooning to an audience of awkwardly dancing teens.

Is it all this good? Well, almost. A few tracks disappoint in important places, most notably the boring “The Boogie Monster” and the aimless (but mercilessly short) “Online.” Still, Danger Mouse continues to churn out consistently good production and even manages in to slip in a few total gems. Cee-Lo’s creative juices are flowing, and his vocal melodies – always quite good – are rounded out here by lyrics that are substantially more interesting than those of some of his past efforts. As is to be expected in any collaboration of this type, there are a lot of good ideas to be found, and it’s worth hearing, even with a few missteps. Even those who generally dislike R&B – a rank among whom I count myself as a member – will be pleasantly surprised by this disc. This one will stay in my rotation for the rest of the summer.