Thursday, July 13, 2006

CD: St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley

Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere
Downtown Records
Produced by Danger Mouse

Danger Mouse is one prolific motherfucker; in the last year alone he has created the impression that he’s doing nothing but sitting in front of his laptop and turntables simply for the purpose of creating beats. In that time, he produced the majority of Gorillaz’ second album Demon Days (working with Blur’s Damon Albarn); released a hip hop collaboration with MF Doom called, obviously enough, Danger Doom; and now Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere, another hip hop producer/rap artist effort, where he teams up with Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo.

Taken in aggregate, the trio of albums make for an interesting aural beachhead for the man responsible for putting the mash-up genre on the map (the oft-heralded Grey Album, a mix up of the BeatlesWhite Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album; look for it on Ebay). Taken individually, each album represents the baby steps taken by an emergent artist towards establishing his personality.

There’s no arguing that DM has chops. Like Demon Days, St. Elsewhere goes a long way towards proving that DM’s pop sensibilities are sharp and on-point. His work with Cee-Lo feels a lot more unrestrained than that evidenced by Danger Doom (which, for an Adult Swim tie-in, the album certainly doesn’t feel as freewheeling or as fun as it should).

The album does not completely stand up on its own, however. For example, “Go Go Gadget Gospel” may have a smirk-inducing title, but the song itself feels like it belongs in Cee-Lo’s library of hip-hop experimentia (best exemplified by Goodie Mob’s team up with fellow Atlanteans Outkast in Dungeon Family’s Even in Darkness). There's even an unnecessary cover (Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone"). Thankfully, the impulse to skip a song doesn’t happen often.

Not enough has been said about Cee-Lo’s work and influence on this album. His lyrics on this album, both haunting and lyrical in the best sense, achieve a schizophrenic and forlorn effect with a minimum of effort:

I'm a microchip off the old block
You know not but I was a robot

Something that you won't see again
What the hell might as well be a friend
I can transform, I'm a transformer
No telling who I will have to be again

(from “Transformer”)
Ever since breaking off from Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo has been hard at work at re-establishing what his sound is about, and SE makes me excited for his future output. It has been a long time since 60s Soul had a run in the popular landscape, and, in my opinion, it’s about time it did so again.

St. Elsewhere works best when the collaboration between DM’s doodling and Cee-Lo’s neo-classic-soul tendencies mesh. As much as SE has grown on me, however, it still feels incomplete. In the pantheon of hip hop producer/artist collaborations, it can’t compare to previous masterworks (Dan the Automator/Kool Keith’s A Much Better Tomorrow and Madlib/MF Doom’s Madvillainy are personal benchmarks). On the other hand, the album is still a good time to be had, and that ain’t bad.

Reviewed by Jose' Amador, 499 words.



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