Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gnarls Barkley -- The Odd Couple

Rating: 2/5 stars

Pros: Cee-lo's emotion-rich and genre-bending voice.

Cons: Sounds like the b-side of their great debut St. Elsewhere.

Bottom Line: Might be time for two music industry vagabonds to disband this odd couple.

Recommended Tracks:

Who's Gonna Save My Soul

Blind Mary

The odd couple, from "Grumpy Old Men" to "Lethal Weapon," is as old as show business. Two mismatched characters are forced together, personalities clash and wackiness ensues. Before "Rush Hour," Jackie Chan had been a Hong Kong martial-arts legend for 20 years without crossing over, while Chris Tucker was known more as a comedian than an actor. But together, the wise-cracking, fast-talking black guy and no-nonsense Asian martial arts expert grossed more than $100 million.

Gnarls Barkley had similarly humble beginnings. The core of their debut album St. Elsewhere was recorded when Southern rap veteran Cee-Lo met underground Gorillaz producer Danger Mouse on tour. Both men had long existed on the mainstream fringe, and they poured their frustrations into their new side project.

From the odd name to the wacky costumes, the group was supposed to be a lark. That was, until "Crazy" happened. Cee-Lo's plaintive wailing blended perfectly with the darkly hypnotic neo-soul/R&B beat, and "Crazy" became one 2006's biggest songs.

St. Elsewhere sounded like nothing else on the charts, and both artists earned some long-deserved commercial success. Of course, a sequel was inevitable. But The Odd Couple is more "Rush Hour II" than "Empire Strikes Back."

Everything about the original is back, from Cee-Lo's dark lyrics ("I know I'm out of control now / Tired enough to lay my own soul down") to the fast-paced "Crazy" remake ("Run"). While his soulful anguish felt genuine the first time around, it just seems forced now. The Odd Couple plays like a b-side of St. Elsewhere — a collection of tracks that couldn't make the cut the first time. Creatively, it's an album that didn't need to be made.

Both men are immensely talented solo artists, but if they're not careful, they're going to be marginalized as parts of a one-trick pony. Chris Tucker made $20 million for each "Rush Hour" movie, but they're all he's done in the last decade.

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