Unyielding in their eclecticism, soul singer Cee-Lo and producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse have returned from a wealth of collaborations back to their Gnarls Barkley project to produce The Odd Couple, the release date of which has been shoved forward by a week. As a sophomore effort intended to expand on the power and energy of their debut St Elsewhere, it falls noticeably short. But as a standalone effort focused on a diverse blend of soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, and electronic music, it is an album to at least be appreciated.
Returning to the trend on St Elsewhere, Charity Case, the opening song on The Odd Couple, starts with a sputtering movie reel, a sound that continues faintly in the silence between songs and comes to the fore again to close the album. Although it’s not hard to imagine the music in a cinematic setting, The Odd Couple would be quite a dense film – an Edgar Wright picture with more references than anyone knows and one that would require repeated viewings to get a feel for its charm.
The Odd Couple does appreciate with time. But unfortunately for Gnarls Barkley, there is no runaway hit like Crazy to be found. Lead single Run, a funk-fueled romp that could inspire a workout routine, tries its best, but no song here matches the inspired simplicity and elegance of the oft-covered and never overplayed Crazy.
Without a standout track, The Odd Couple plays as an experiment designed to combine as many stylistic elements as possible, most of the time as a detriment to the flow of the album and the individual song structures. Bookended by surprisingly similar tracks Going On and Surprise, which both feature sparkling surf-beat ridden choruses, the middle section of the album brings out the most energetic experiments, but is also the most fractured because of them.
Following the quickly paced Run, the ghastly Would Be Killer creeps along with a bumping beat, splintered guitar lines, and reversed sounds that offer disturbing scrapes along the way. This leads into the grunts and groans of the melodic D&B-inspired Open Book with its frantic beat, roaring chorus, and twinkling string and piano loops. Then without much warning, the synth laden, ska influenced Whatever starts in with an a strong, simple beat and strange vocal accompaniment. This middle section provides the greatest offerings of The Odd Couple, though none of them match the hyperactive energy of St Elsewhere’s Go-Go Gadget Gospel or Transformer.
Afterwards, as with St Elsewhere, The Odd Couple starts to wane in the second half. From the pop turned industrial-synth-pop of No Time Soon onward, The Odd Couple starts its period of separation, with Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse perhaps rushing through these songs so they can spend their time with musical bedfellows outside of the Gnarls Barkley household. Although Cee-Lo’s lyrics were never such a strong point of the group, offerings like “I love Mary, Blind Mary marry me?” on the cutesy pop bounce of Blind Mary and “My neighbour, my neighbour’s behaviour is unjustified, I’m sick and tired” on the failed track Neighbours are the crusty icing on an already stale cake of musical missteps in these final tracks.
For fans of St Elsewhere and general mash-ups of styles, The Odd Couple will contain a few splendid tracks, a few decent offerings, and a few duds. Thank goodness for the era of iTunes and other providers, where the general populace can grab onto individual tracks like Crazy, Run, and Whatever without getting the filler of a Blind Mary or Neighbors into their collection.