INSTA-REVIEW: Gnarls Barkley The Odd Couple


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BY ED KING ROCK EXPERT Break open a bag of Funyuns! There’s a new Gnarls Barkley record! The dynamic duo of Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo kicks off their new album with “Blind Mary,” a “cute” number about stalking a blind girl named Mary. How sweet! This one has that digital approximation of the ’60s Ed Sullivan sound, which seems to be this band’s bread and butter when not doing the Night at the Roxbury party music. I’m really feeling nostalgic for that “Groove Is in the Heart” band, Lisa Stansfield, and other late-’80s/early-’90s British imports that delivered watered down versions of half-decent American dance-pop music. Damn, I know these two guys aren’t British, but they water down half-decent music with the best of any trendy Brits over the last 20 years. Bring back Fine Young Cannibals, pronto! At least those guys knew how to finish what they start. This is yet another song that just conks out after the initial ideas are introduced in the first 30 seconds.

She Knows: Now Gnarls dials up a Bacharach/David vibe! Chattering electronic beats threaten to come to the fore. There’s some kind of digital hiss all over the vocals. Why? Or is this a drum machine’s idea of playing the snare with brushes? More Ikea Music. Let’s make out.

No Time Soon: Is this a Harry Belafonte number? It’s kind of folky, but now it’s threatening to open up intognarls-barkley-pr03.jpg a Fifth Dimension-style stoned soul picnic. Yes, that’s where we’re headed, load into the Way-Back Machine, digital style, meaning we’re slated to hear the same damn electric drum beats rather than the studio majesty of a Hal Blaine. This is Ikea Music, for practical living!

Whatever: What’s this, Gnarls Barkley’s take on garage rock? I can confidently say this one doesn’t suck, but here’s a little word of advice: garage rock works much better when there’s a fuzz guitar or overdriven Farfisa/Vox organ driving through the proceedings. Otherwise, why bother?

Who’s Gonna Save My Soul: All right, we’re getting into some mournful coffee table soul! The singer just pronounced the “t” in often. Man, that’s a pet peeve of mine! “Who’s gonna save my soul, now? I wonder if I’m gonna grow old, now…” This, my friends, is SOUL music, or at least what we think it should be when we’re not really paying attention.

Run (I’m a Natural Disaster): What the hell is this, Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” done Alvin and the Chipmunks-style? Slow down, dudes. Like Col. Steve Austin once said, “I’m breaking up!” I’m curious to hear from people who dig hearing the constant chattering of electronic hi-hits, as featured in this song.

Would Be Killer: This must be the “bad trip” number. All these canned backing tracks are a bad enough trip for me. The last thing this album called for was cheesy pre-echo effects on the singer’s voice. This song’s about to end, having gone nowhere. I’m all for short songs, but how about taking me around the block before splitting? Damn, this is Absentee Father music!

Open Book: More speedy, impractical electronic drum beats and bad vocal effects. What is this style of rhythm, something influenced by that “drum and bass” shit? I used to get stoned with a friend, crank the beats on an old Korg drum machine, and yell nonsense through a cheap Effectron digital delay. I know what this stuff is reminding me of: that song from the A Night at the Roxbury skit, “What Is Love,” or whatever that’s called. Man, that song sucked, even when being mocked. Hipsters, the joke’s on you! So far, beside the second track, the Al-Green-by-Numbers tune, this album is crap.

gnarls-barkleyclockworkorange.jpgGoing On: Back to the party. Pass the Funyuns! Listen to the handclaps and urgent vocals. Dig that synth tracing the melody lines for me in the background, in case I can’t follow the in-my-face vocals. Oooh, here’s a mysterious, eerie breakdown … I can’t wait until they explode out of it with that same damn beat and melody that I know will never vary as the song progresses. Hey, a curveball! The song simply faded out on the eerie part. Spooky!

Charity Case: A heady cocktail of bubblegum beats, Vocoder backing vocals, and tinkling xylophones. I’m expecting to party like it’s 1999 (circa 1983 in real time, that is)! And, well, that’s that. Over before it begins. The song ended without doing much more than welcoming me to the party.

Surprise: Sticking with the nods to groovy ’60s tunes, this song features Association-style “bah bahs” and a stop-and-go verse. I’m reminded of the cheap trick of people in the early ’90s putting on round specs, an Afro wig, and a headband before heading out to a vague ’60s/’70s themed party. What am I, some 20-year-old snot-nosed kid at St. Joe’s? Come on!

A Little Better: This may be the best song on the album, and that’s not saying much. At least the beat settles into something that might stir more than the loins of a Ken doll. And then the song ends…

Neighbors: Not a bad tune, especially compared with some of the other recycled late-’80s UK pop revival stuff. I always liked Terrence Trent D’Arby better than most of his contemporaries. These guys should do more TTD-style songs. It’s like Stevie Wonder Lite.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed King likes a lot of things, but mostly he likes to be left alone. Ed has kicked around the outer orbits of the periphery of local scene for some time. He was there when Tuxedomoon played Revival. Ed likes all things great and some things good. Anymore, what falls short of those simple criteria gets harder to bear. He appreciates you respecting his privacy at time like this.

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