Gnarls Barkley balances weighty themes, spirited pop

Sat Mar 15, 2008 7:53pm EDT
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By Jeff Vrabel

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The title of Gnarls Barkley's sophomore record is the first, and probably last, funny thing about it.

If the band's 2006 debut, "St. Elsewhere," seemed to sail in from some neighboring planet -- a pop disc that smeared itself with psychedelic weirdness, a vague sense of the creepy and a knockout Violent Femmes cover -- the follow-up is a much trickier trip to the dark side. ("I'm not doing so good," a serious-sounding Cee-Lo Green intones on the otherwise effervescent opening track, "Charity Case.")

But where there's darkness there's light, Green says. And as Gnarls Barkley -- Green's musical partnership with Danger Mouse -- prepares for the April 8 release of its highly anticipated sophomore set for Downtown/Atlantic, "The Odd Couple," he's making sure to keep focused on both.

"I'm very fortunate and privileged to still be relevant, to get a chance to listen back at my music in a way where it seems as if it doesn't belong to me," he says. "At this point it's ours now to share. There's a bit of vulnerability in that, although there's also strength."

That's the first in a series of dualities Green will bring up in discussing "The Odd Couple," a record that, like its predecessor, is about playing things off one another, forging matches out of seeming incongruities and continuing to scavenge around the intersection between the weird and the wondrous.


"Dark has this negative stigma attached to it," Green says. "But my take on it is that the sun does set at some point in time every day. So it's equal parts dark and light."

If it takes listeners a few spins to catch on, that's fine. "I've grown pretty accustomed to people watching, but not necessarily recognizing, the difference between seeing and recognizing something for what it truly is," he says. "And I accept those terms, but by default, some of the time, there's a part of any human being that just wants to be embraced right out of the gate." And here Green pauses for a chuckle. "I am aware of my own oddness and uniqueness," he says. "I can dig it."   Continued...

<p>Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley performs "Crazy" at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles February 11, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>