Elizabeth Stolfi
staff writer
May 18, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews
Gnarls Barkley
St. Elsewhere

Even though Gnarls Barkley technically doesn't exist, and the two masterminds behind this record prefer to pretend he is some sort of mystical musical figure, St. Elsewhere is easily an early pick for record of the year. You have heard of the two artists behind Gnarls Barkley, or you‘ve at least heard their music. Danger Mouse is the guy that put Jay-Z to the Beatles for the infamous Gray Album, and provided the beats for The Gorillaz Demon Days (he must have a thing for made-up characters). Cee-Lo is the hip hop producer behind Goody Mob, and such hits as The Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha" (as well as many others you know all too well).

As said on the official site, the album does contain sounds familiar to albums as great as Good Vibrations and Songs in the Key of Life (there‘s no need for modesty here). Gnarls Barkley, the figment of Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and Cee-Lo’s (Thomas Calloway) imagination may be much greater than the sum of it’s parts. Danger Mouse has collaborated on many a celebrated hip hop album, but never before has he received such instant success and attention from all walks of the industry. Already a huge hit in the UK and the internet over a month before it‘s release, the album’s first single, “Crazy,” is one of those songs that could be a timeless hip hop classic in the tradition of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” or The Beastie Boys’ “Fight for your Right.”

Though, in today’s music world, St. Elsewhere will probably become more of a critically celebrated album, quietly getting the attention from music gurus and SPIN Magazine. If there were an MTV music world to splash this song all over, I’d say it could and should happen. The authentic record skip and scratch and beautiful Marvin Gaye style vocals of “Crazy” make the song hit you immediately as someone unknown sings “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind.”

The reason why It us unknown who sings it is explained by Cee-Lo on Gnarlsbarkley.com; “Yes, I believe that I sang on at least some of the Gnarls Barkley record, But we are not the same person. I am Cee-Lo. I am a humble trumpet, and the wind of God blows through me. You might consider Gnarls the spit valve on the trumpet, were you inclined to consider him at all.” Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo’s explanation of who Gnarls Barkley really is is more than interesting. “He’s not [Blur frontman and Gorillaz co-creator] Damon Albarn – I can blow that myth out of the water for you,” says Danger Mouse. “A lot of people think he lives in South Carolina. Personally, I think you’d be more likely to find him in Europe” (One could be inclined to think the South Carolina hint crosses a certain Outkast member off the list of hopefuls). Their sense of humor on the matter is almost disturbing, and anyone who hears about this record will be more than inclined to consider Gnarls Barkley.

The record opens with the sounds of a movie reel cranking up, which is exactly what St. Elsewhere could be compared to. The theatrics of the first track, which hustle and bustle with horns and quick electronic drums not unlike a certain Stankonian tune, are quite an introduction of what’s to come. The album dips and dives in all musical waters, touching on trip-hop DJ shadows on the title track, electronic punk rocking to a Violent Femmes cover (“Gone Daddy Gone”), and new wave Motown on “Smiley Faces.” St. Elsewhere touches a piece of all the classics of all genres (hip-hop, rock, pop, alternative) and leaves you feeling…no, knowing that you’ve heard perhaps the most important record of 2006.

As much a mystery as the identity of Gnarls Barkley really is, I think it can be confirmed that he is loving the attention. Imagine, a great debut album from someone that doesn’t even exist? It actually explains a lot…

Release date: May 9, 2006
Label: Downtown
Rating: 9.0 / 10

On the web: www.gnarlsbarkley.com
[RMR]