In considering the follow-up album from a group with a breakout debut, there is often that natural-but-nagging concern that the first record was a fluke. Gnarls Barkley’s sophomore release, The Odd Couple, cements Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green's collaborative voice. Their re-invention of modern soul once again comes across loud, funky and clear, picking up right where they left off.
St. Elsewhere (2006) introduced us to Gnarls’ unique pairing of Cee Lo’s soulful, penetrating lyrical style and Danger’s psychedelic sound-forging wizardry. The Odd Couple echoes that format, once again transporting the listener to a refreshing universe where the old school meets the computer age, where Al Green intermingles with Portishead. But this description is unfair, as Gnarls is completely unique, and The Odd Couple only tightens that singular sound. Danger showcases his love of vast musical styles, layering in everything from trippy choral arrangements, melancholy pop and spaghetti westerns while Cee-Lo continues to explore lyrical questions of loneliness and mortality, punctuating them with his incredible voice.
Lead-off track “Charity Case” is a perfect example of how these two styles merge to form the haunting, complex World of Gnarls. Energetic percussion and an “ooh ahh” chorus emerge, only to meet a somber offering from Cee-Lo: “How are you? I’m not doing so good.” These honest lines paired with a club-anthem beat encapsulate what Gnarls is all about. Later, Cee-Lo asks, “Who’s gonna save my soul now?” while a moody keyboard and steady beat back him up, seemingly wondering the answer as well. “Run,” the record's first single, follows soon after to pick up the pace, and the dark-but-inviting universe continues to unfold.
The Odd Couple rewards repeated listens, revealing intriguing new sounds each time, from heavenly organs to cartoon noises. The complexity hints that Gnarls Barkley is finished revving up. Now that Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green are off and running, it's up to their wicked creativity to decided where they go.