It’s hard to pigeonhole Gnarls Barkley into a specific genre. The collaboration between Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse draws from many influences, but their unique blend quickly garnered critical acclaim and various awards. When “Crazy” hit the radio waves in 2002, it was hard to find a station that didn’t have it in constant rotation. With so little going wrong with their first record, what is there to look forward to next?
With “The Odd Couple,” Gnarls Barkley tries to regain the efficacious charm that seduced the nation with its debut. It is often hard to resist Danger Mouse’s talent for manufacturing accessible tunes out of a hodgepodge of sound as it is with Cee-Lo’s laid-back vocals. However, the new album teeters between doing too much and too little too often, while the clash of style that helped propel “St. Elsewhere” is this time destabilizing.
The album starts off with an easy-going pop song, mixed with handclaps and Cee-Lo’s fast-paced lyrics along with a soft xylophone and a female counterpart littering the song with la-la-las. The song tries to be playful, but doesn’t necessarily get there.
The next song, “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” is a bit more straightforward, and is a down-tempo brooder. “Going On” is one of the more focused songs on the record, with Cee-Lo dictating the pace from the start. From there, he takes off running with “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster).” The song is supposed to be the first quick track on the album, but feels too redundant and predictable to get anyone excited about it.
“Would Be Killer” comes up next and moves at a deathly slow crawl. While this song doesn’t do enough, “Open Book” does far too much at once. Danger Mouse tries to mix numerous things together and the end result is a fuzzy song that goes nowhere. Up until this point, the album feels completely lost.
However, the second half of the album redeems what little is left. “Whatever” is a fun little jingle that is very simple, but short enough that it never drags. “Surprise” is definitely the highlight of the album. Cee-Lo’s lyrics take turns bouncing off a wavy guitar and clickity-clack percussions, while he smirks “Don’t be surprised,” during what turns out to be the turning point of the album. “No Time Soon” and “She Knows” give an ethereal feel lacking in the earlier songs.
“Blind Mary” starts off with what sounds like a toy keyboard, but the carefree tone of the song works fittingly with it. A bouncy love song filled with backing vocals that sound like they came out of Mo-Town, this is another keeper off the record. “Neighbors” is marked by similarly strong vocals, and Cee-Lo really stretches his voice with a great performance here.
“A Little Better” closes the record, and feels like the closest Cee-Lo gets to a real groove on the entire album. Hip-hop fans have been waiting the entire record for a track like this, but it may have come too late to bring the group into the good graces of its followers.
Just as Danger Mouse did when he mashed up Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatles’ “The White Album,” Gnarls Barkley are known for effortlessly mixing hip-hop with pop rock.
However, while this was done well on their debut, their sophomore effort falls flat too often than not to be called a success. There are plenty of solid moments on the record that can’t just be dismissed, but after the blend that we’ve already heard, it’s a little disappointing to see such a spotty follow up.