red lights


Crazy and colorful debut

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
(Downtown Records)
4 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 3, 2006
Gnarls Barkley

Review by Tony Bonyata

Not since the Atlanta-based hip-hop duo Outkast has there been an act that has successfully married hip-hop, soul and electro-eccentricities better than Gnarls Barkley, a dynamic duo consisting of producer / DJ Danger Mouse (best known for his notorious mash-up of The Beatles' White Album and rapper Jay-Z's The Black Album) and vocalist extraordinaire Cee-Lo Green (former member of Atlanta's Goodie Mob). But whereas Outkast's music is steeped most heavily in Southern rap, Gnarls Barkley utilizes rap and hip-hop as essential additives rather than the primary ingredient.

If there is one dominating force on their debut album, St. Elsewhere, it's the sexy soul of the '70s. With a set of buttery pipes, Cee-Lo manages to channel the soulful sounds of Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, while Danger Mouse works his magic with a colorful kaleidoscope of break-beats, strings, bubbling electronics and some of the strongest pop hooks in decades.

Making their debut live performance last April at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, the two wasted little time staking claim to the music charts. Their current hit from St. Elsewhere, "Crazy," was the first single to top the UK singles chart purely on download sales alone and is currently enjoying Billboard success here in The States with a number two position on their Hot 100 chart and number one spot for Hot Digital Songs. And while the top of the charts are usually littered with disposable flavors-of-the-day, "Crazy" proves worthy with its mix of satiny soul, infectious hip-hop beats, swirling strings and danm-near perfect pop.

And while "Crazy" has already made this gangly, but lovable looking duo household names practically overnight, their entire album is one of those rare things in music that is able to transcend and defy genres and categorizations. From the creepy, blood-sucking soul of "The Boogie Monster" to the robotic, percolating hip-hop of "Feng Shui" to the Spanish guitar that flamenco dances atop the bass-drum heavy soul of "Just A Thought" and radio-ready danceable pop of "Smiley Faces" Gnarls Barkley has produced an album that guarantees smiles on lovers of practically any style of music - be it dance, pop, rap, soul or electronica. The two even manage to attract the alternative / indie rock crowd with an enduring version of the Violent Femmes' xylophone-driven college perennial "Gone Daddy Gone."

Crazy, colorful, highly textured and insanely infectious, this is surely one of the strongest efforts of the year - from any genre.

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