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Gnarls Barkley

The Odd Couple

Gnarls Barkley

8 / 10 A little over two years ago a song stunned the nation. The perfect comedown soundtrack, rowdy party tune and ponderous soul epic all in one, the larger-than-life ‘Crazy’ and its creators Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse seemed to come out of nowhere. The psychedelic futurism of Gnarls Barkley’s debut LP ‘St Elsewhere’ followed. Experimental R&B shot through with quirky pop sensibilities with a progressively inane edge? It was love at first sight. However, where to go next? Would album number two contain more quirky tunes from the year 2525 spread evenly with a good dollop of freak jam? Well, no, and to be frank it’s a blessing in disguise.

Instead of jamming the pedal down on the DeLorean and zooming even further into the future, ‘The Odd Couple’ sees the duo narrow their focus on to one decade: the ’70s. The result is a rock-solid, at times outstanding, collection of master-crafted melodies and time-resistant songs. The first album’s innovation was commendable but, like someone who’s been busy spreading their wild oats just before marriage, it seems they’ve settled on who they want to spend the rest of their life with. Or in this case, something they’re happy with for 13 tracks.

Sonically it’s a far more sinister affair than ‘St Elsewhere’. ‘The Odd Couple’ may continually doff its cap to the warped P-funk of George Clinton and the straight-up verdant soul of Marvin Gaye, but an air of menace hangs over the entire record. Creepy bass, suffocating synths and Cee-Lo’s quasi-religious vocals make ‘Open Book’ and ‘Would Be Killer’ both deep, dark trips into the duo’s psyche. The pair have not only bettered the lyrical depiction of a psychological meltdown covered on ‘St Elsewhere’ but now they’ve discovered the skills to musically transport the listener to those same frightening, harried mental landscapes.

Happily there are perkier moments. The heartwarming ‘Blind Mary’, ‘Run’’s nod to Jesus Christ Superstar’s showbiz funk and the gospel bounce of ‘Surprise’ are hugely uplifting as long as you pay no heed to the latter’s glum refrain: “When everything ultimately dies/Don’t be surprised”. Elsewhere, ‘A Little Better’’s superfly strut could have been swiped from a Curtis Mayfield-soundtracked blaxploitation flick while opener ‘Charity Case’ is a smooth demonstration of innovative flair and songwriting expertise.

Unlike ‘St Elsewhere’, which gave the band a whole host of florid starting points, ‘The Odd Couple’ contains few hints about where the pair will go next. For now, let’s revel in the fact that soul music hasn’t sounded this fresh and downright freaky for a quarter of a century.

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