When Gnarls Barkley first appeared two years ago, Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo’s photo-shoot send-ups and overall character-heavy image teetered perilously close to camp, but the way Cee-Lo so poignantly and sincerely sang lines like, “I’ve tried everything but suicide” made their music impossible to dismiss. Not to mention those hooks—you know, the kind that lodged “Crazy” in our minds long before the video’s living inkblots even had a chance to dry. Perhaps maddeningly, “Crazy” didn’t overshadow the rest of the duo’s debut, St. Elsewhere. A mix of Sly Stone and OutKast, Zelig and A Clockwork Orange, Soul Train and Inspector Gadget, the formula was hard to resist, and it was a lot less gimmicky than Gorillaz.
In order to avoid one-hit wonder status, Danger and Cee-Lo would need to recapture our attention with a template tweaked enough to render it seemingly fresh, or hit back with something as equally captivating as St. Elsewhere—or both. As it stands, The Odd Couple does neither. The album begins and ends with the same film-reel sound effect as its predecessor, but attempts to experiment, like the polka-dance of “Blind Mary,” fall flat more often than not. Danger’s production is less novel here, relying too heavily on predictably retro “Hey Ya!” drum shuffles and laser beam effects, and Cee-Lo’s vocals are at his most affected (read: annoying) on songs like the noir-ish “Would-Be Killer.” He’s as grating as Momma from Throw Momma from the Train on “Whatever,” but with lyrics like “I don’t have any friends at all,” I suppose that’s the point.
Cee-Lo’s processed shouts, on the other hand, work on “Open Book,” which is cinematic and frightening in all the right ways. And that song isn’t the only gem: Opening track “Charity Case” espouses redemption through generosity (its “Give it away now” refrain couldn’t be any further removed from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song), and the album’s second single, “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” is a subtle slice of future-blues reminiscent of Portishead. Needless to say, though, Odd Couple doesn’t conjure the same immediate wow-factor as St. Elsewhere. Ironically, it’s Gorillaz who, in swapping out one producer for another (incidentally, Danger Mouse), have more successfully managed to evade the sophomore slump. Maybe Cee-Lo should give Dan the Automator a call.