Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple

Danger Mouse has somehow draped a blanket of Mr. Sandman drowsiness over The Odd Couple. It’s not a boring album — well, some of it is — but there’s a late-night a.m. radio haze to the whole thing, so that even the more uptempo bits like the proto Soul Train, Austin Powers-y first single “Run,” hit like an old time, sepia-flaired party jam … on opiates. No Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer necessary. If you can keep your eyes open despite the muted, soothing tones of the production, there are some fine songs, shining moments. Everyone’s going to want “Crazy,” of course, but it’s safe to say life would be fine if we never heard it again. Plus, we’re happy to see Cee-Lo putting his soulful pipes to different uses and going elsewhere than St. Elsewhere. We’re also glad, too, for some reason, that there isn’t another Violent Femmes cover. (Somehow that just didn’t age well.) Something like the lovely, downcast “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” sounds so old, it already feel sorta classic in a way that goes beyond retro. “Gettin’ high because I feel so low…” Again, thanks Danger Mouse. Then there are 11 other tunes.

The album starts with what sounds like a film projector’s flicker and then an upfront drum, bass, ooh ah voices, and a bell are layered. It’s a great chance to see how much Danger Mouse threads into each track. More elements enter “Charity Case” as it goes along — oh, that warm-ass organ, those hand claps, the female interventions — but in other songs, things are already fully formed when the songs start, so this gives us a moment of skeletal clarity.

Sometimes it’s just the production that’s impressive — like, the steamy hiss of “She Knows” is great, the song forgettable. “Going On” isn’t perfect, but the clustered final symphonic minute or so are absolutely gorgeous. On “Blind Mary,” they nail both the tune and the over-compressed, tiny feel — it’s toy-box oom pa pa. ” The Mousing can also be subtle: “Neighbors” hits like solid, classic Motown-esque, but with a skeletal imprint of a choir flickering behind Cee-Lo’s lead. The ’60s sampling on “Surprise” has us thinking of “California Dreaming,” the Zombies, and Turtles all at once.

There are flops, too — Plodding “Would-Be Killer” and its hump sounds or the chirpy, lame “Whatever”: “I don’t have any friends at all / cause I have nothing in common with y’all…,” “I love my girl more than I love myself, but she’s goin’ steady with someone else….” Goin’ steady? Ugh. When he says “shut up mom” and “whatever, bitch,” you might cringe. And, so, why does the beginning of “No Time Now” remind us of Dave Matthews? Not sure. But it does.

So, basically — The Odd Couple’s strange, slightly old-timey but futuristic, languid feel is great. The collection includes a few songs would be entirely forgettable if not for Danger Mouse’s intervention, and a few just blow.

The Odd Couple is out 4/8 on Atlantic.

Premature Evaluation: Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple