Gnarls Barkley a Couple With ‘Crazy’ Musical Chemistry
By Rob Lowman Entertainment
Video: Gnarls Barkley in action
The New York Times described their music as a “psychedelic post- hip-hop sound.” A Paste magazine writer called “The Odd Couple”"a soundtrack for a tortured superhero.” Another critic said it was “miserable exuberance.” And Danger Mouse (real name Brian Burton) even told New York magazine that “Crazy” was inspired by Ennio Morricone’s score for a spaghetti Western. “It’s the oohs and aahs, the choirs and the strings, and the arrangement.”
Got it, right? Critics have been looking for some shorthand to describe Gnarls Barkley’s music – but good luck. That’s enough to drive anyone “Crazy,” which one critic said was “a song that brings an eerie clarity to the cloud of mental illness.”
No wonder Cee-Lo is reluctant to spill any beans.
“I shy away from trying to sum it up,” Cee-Lo says about Gnarls Barkley’s music. “It can’t be classified into any one thing, but ultimately it’s simply soul music.”
Or at least soul music for the times. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” off “The Odd Couple” was written partially as a tribute to the Godfather of Soul, the late James Brown and one of Cee-Lo’s heroes. (“James Brown was everyone’s godfather.”)
Like “Crazy,”"Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” features a gripping, almost anguished vocal by Cee-Lo, 32, whose parents were both ministers. His father died when he was 2, and his mother was paralyzed two years later in an auto accident and died when he was 18.
As a youth, he would “sing informally.” It was an aunt who pointed out that he had a good voice.
“I think I recognized what was quality or ability,” he says. “The first vocalists I admired were James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Womack and Bill Withers. I was able to emulate and imitate those voices. I would sing along with the record until my voice would become flush with them.” He added, “It wasn’t until later on in life I found my own voice.”
Cee-Lo started his career as a member of the Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob in the 1990s. He first hooked up with Danger Mouse in 2003, although it would be a few years before the hit. Mouse, a producer, was best-known before GB for the 2004 “The Grey Album,” an unauthorized mash-up of the Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album.”
The pair usually write their songs with Danger Mouse laying down a music environment and then Cee-Lo creating the vocals and lyrics over it.
“(Mouse) says on occasion that if he can keep my attention for two minutes, then we’re onto something,” says Cee-Lo. “Since that’s all I have to work with, I try to see how succinct I can be.”
“Crazy” can apply to Gnarls Barkley outfits. At the MTV Movie Awards in 2006, Cee-Lo dressed as Darth Vader and Danger Mouse as Obi-Wan Kenobi when they performed “Crazy,” which was named the best song of 2006 by Rolling Stone and by the Village Voice’s annual critics poll. It also won a 2007 Grammy Award for best urban/ alternative performance. At the awards ceremony, they dressed as airline pilots.
On their European tour, though, “We’ve been wearing suits – a lot more conservatively this time around. But its still different from all of the other uhh-uhh-uhh,” says Cee-Lo, giving a James Brown chant at the end.
While the pair never expected the success they have – Cee-Lo has practically been apologizing for having to perform “Crazy” while in Europe – there is at least one more Gnarls Barkley album ahead.
“What we want to want to do after that remains to be seen,” says Cee-Lo, who, like Danger Mouse, has other projects lined up. “We’ll probably always want to work with each other (in some form).” But then adds as a second thought, “Will we work forevermore? … I don’t think so.”
But so far, the chemistry has worked. Their collaboration has seemed to unleash the best in them – a wild ride so far.
And what can those at the Bowl expect on Sunday? Cee-Lo wouldn’t say. “Each audience is its own atmosphere.” He wouldn’t even let on what they might wear.
Rob Lowman (818) 713-3687,
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