Monday, 7 April 2008

GNARLS BARKLEY: Who's Gonna Save My Soul Now?

They still haven't found what they're looking for, Gnarls Barkley; The Odd Couple is a slightly more coherent pile of rags than St Elsewhere was, but still they search, scuffling through the debris of Sam the Sham and the Archies and Francoise Hardy looking for...well, a "purity" isn't really the word or the aim here. "Whatever" is a hilarious globule of mock-British garage rock (what garage rock worth its purple socks wasn't?), "Open Book" and "No Time Soon" play havoc with time signatures like no one since the second Definition of Sound album.

Yet both know that this is a darkening world, and should they colour it in luminescent lime green or just scribble everything out to the dust of undiggable coal? Danger Mouse keeps his deal to himself for now, cautiously fearful that things are coming to some kind of an end - why else colour the cover in that seldom-deployed union of puce and turquoise? - and this seeps out into his other work; The Blue God, the fine forthcoming Martina Topley-Bird album, is all saddened murmurs under blankets of blessed modulation - he hasn't been able to make the Black Keys any less dull where it matters, but the second Shortwave Set album may yet furnish the light of whitened redemption.

Here, though, is where the oddly normal heart tries hardest to beat. It has been said that this was written after the passing of James Brown, and Cee-Lo is both in proper mourning and secretly dubious about whether he should be glad - has he been released from the direct burden of inspiration ("I got some bad news this morning/Which in turn made my day) more stifling than inspiring? How can his voice be re-covered ("All this time I've lived vicariously") - even if it is far closer to that of Al Green? Like the real or inherent monster (his "beast at bay") which inspires his fear in the single "Run"; Keith Mansfield's "Junior Jet Set" reset for a 90 mph switchback ride about to be destroyed and erased (Cameron's coming, kids?); he is somewhat more in mourning for himself, as evidenced by the final "hmmmm" and "OHHHHH"-precipitated cry of "Still my hunger turns to GREED/'Cause what about what I NEED?" - the samples, the skeleton on which artfully to build? "Ohhhhhhhh," he concludes, "I know I'm out of control now," nearly disappearing into the fading, overstretched fabric, "Oooooooohhhh, tired enough to set my soul down." An elegy of suppressed hysteria - all the time mourning himself above all others - which the Marvin Gaye of 1979 would have understood. Chords descending to his own ruination? What's pulling them at the other end?