Hey guys! Do you remember when, do you remember, you remember, when you lost your minds a few years ago when this album came out? I don’t, as I tend to forget this album more often than I should. So, as I burn through lots of new music that I’m not quite ready to write about, let’s re-visit an album that you might have already heard, enjoyed, and then forgotten about:
This is the debut project from one of the few rappers I legitimately enjoy, Cee-Lo Green, and a dude who I am very ambivalent about, “multi-instrumentalist” Danger Mouse (any similarity between the artist and a David Jason-voiced cartoon mouse spy is coincidence). It is what is known to us doctors as a “crazy popular debut”, having charted just about anywhere it can, and being a healthy online download as well. The big hit single from the album, “Crazy”, was mercifully deleted from all those charts it was topping at the behest of the group themselves, because they didn’t want it to get stale. For this, I applaud the group loudly and sincerely, because there’s nothing more annoying than a song that just never goes away.
The other reason I’m glad they deleted “Crazy” from the charts is because there are some other really excellent songs on this album that should not have the light taken away from them. The album even starts with a wonderful gospel/hip-hop/electronic hybrid containing one of my favorite titles in music: “Go-Go Gadget Gospel”. It’s a high-pitched, high-energy track containing Cee-Lo’s unique and splendid vocals, on top of a rather excellent melody containing horn-sounding arpeggios. It’s practically a perfect “start of album” song, not least for its rather short length.
Then we have, right there on track 2, the “hit” of the album, the Rorschach-tastic “Crazy”. It’s hard to tell you what is so great about this song that it’s one of the best songs I can think of, but what does it for me is the clean electric guitar driving the simple rhythm, what might do it for everyone else is the sea of expertly-placed backing vocals backing up Cee-Lo’s majestic voice, or maybe it’s the very clever and introspective lyrics that touch on the obvious theme of insanity and some more subtle themes of existentialism. Either way, this song is one I always take my hat off to as one of the best pop songs ever written, and I think the charted and uncharted sales of just this single will back me up on that.
The actual title track of the album is next, and despite being a really cool track, it kind of falls off the face of the planet, perhaps because it’s sandwiched by two singles? Either way, I always tend to forget this song is here, but that’s all right because it’s a pleasant surprise whenever it does come on, because as I said, it’s a really cool song. I’m particularly impressed by the production of this album, and how many interesting and subtle bits are inserted into the song, so thath you notice something different every time. This is an element I particularly like in hip-hop, it’s just the actual songs that get on my nerves.
Next we have a cover of the Violent Femmes’ minor hit “Gone Daddy Gone”. When I listen to the song within the flow of the actual album, I realize I am being a little unfair calling it an inferior cover, because it actually is a pretty good cover, just not as good as the original, as far as I’m concerned, despite the fuzz bass, which I love. Incidentally, in response to this song and its success, the Femmes put aside their petty personal differences long enough to record their own cover of “Crazy”, which is not as good as the original but solid nonetheless (thus returning the favor in full).
Utilizing a very motown kind of beat, the next song “Smiley Faces” is another personal favorite of mine, mainly for the amazing melody and the array of clever instrumentation, incorporating a rather dirty synthesizer and higher-register bass-line, only to have it all drop out except for the beat to bring in the most profound lyrics sung against only the catchy drum beat. Pop magic, my friends.
“The Boogie Monster” is a goofy piece about a monster in one’s closet, and it’s worth it just to hear the (clearly ad-lib) final line.
The song “Feng Shui” is one of the songs that most remind me of the fact that Cee-Lo is involved in this project, as it practically sounds like a song off one of his own albums. This is not a bad thing, of course, I am a big fan of Cee-Lo, but I will say that it’s good that this song is incredibly short, because otherwise it might derail the understatedness of the hip-hop elements of this album.
Possibly my personal favorite song on this album is “Just A Thought”. It’s a melancholy song reflecting on the dark moods that come with depression, and even a chorus that directly talks about suicide. It is sung as only Cee-Lo can sing it against a pair of acoustic guitars and some lovely sounding keyboards, but all of that is overshadowed by the overbearing beat of the song, which clips in and out almost sporadically. It’s exactly the kind of beat that I would expect from Radiohead at their craziest, and I can’t stop listening to it. That beat is so amazing, it manages to make an already great song into a favorite, by introducing that much-needed element of chaos and distortion to the proceedings.
The rest of the album slows down somewhat for me after this point, though there’s some good stuff here. We start with a song that seems like it’s stuck in fast-forward called “Transformer”. It’s catchy, but runs the risk of being hated I’m sure. I personally like it.
“Who Cares” is a very blunt series of self-contradictions that is broken up by a very catchy one-line chorus:
It’s deep how you can be so shallow
I’m afraid because I have no fear
And I didn’t believe in magic
Until I watched it disappear
(I wish you were here)
And I can go on and on and on (but who cares?)
Ok, actually the song is very clever. I guess I think I’m so cool because I could easily pick out the formula.
Then we have a quick minute and 50 seconds called “Online”, which I don’t really get. Sorry!
There’s another distortion-happy track called “Necromancer” which is pretty good, but I typically miss out on half the things that are said because both the vocals and the beats and some of the synthesizers are all distorted. It’s unfortunate, because the lyrics are twisted and very clever, just my cup of tea! There’s another song after that called “Storm Coming”, which takes a while to get up off the ground, but is quite fun once it does.
Finally we have “The Last Time”, which is another criticism of how most people live their lives. It’s a good song as long as you don’t get distracted by the guitar-noodling sound in the right channel that appears for most of the song. Still, by this time you might have skipped the whole back part of the album to get back to that good part at the front, if not, you aren’t not missing much.
So yes, Gnarls Barkley is quite a group with quite a debut album. After this album, Danger Mouse went on to produce an album for The Black Keys, Beck, and a second album from Gnarls Barkley, all of which have roughly the same sound, which is hugely diminished from the sounds of this album. I don’t know why that is, but I will surely be exploring that phenomenon in later entries. Until then, stay crazy!