Album in Depth: St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley

Hi, I’m JotaKa. I’m a rocker by birth and grew listening to rock discs and long plays by the dozen. And it’s the first time I’m venturing in the magical wonderful world of hip-hop. So, this album fell in my hands some months ago, with promises of being one of the best albums ever recorded. I kind of doubted that back then: I still doubt that right now. This album is St. Elsewhere by the duo known as Gnarls Barkley. Who the hell they are, you may ask? A little background is required:

The year is 2006. With a key made of pure shit, Pirates of the Caribbean closes its trilogy while being the highest grossing movie of the year and The Departed won the Academy Award (although I believe The Queen was a superior film, but at least it won another award). Jason Blunt released the single “You’re Beautiful” and the music video for “Here It Goes Again” by Ok Go becomes a YouTube sensation. Nintendo releases the Wii and Sony releases the PlayStation 3.

Gnarls Barkley, a duo, released their first album, this one. But to be honest, talking about the duo is not that much explanatory, because it would be like a trio composed of Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Chris Cornell, that only released one album.

Cee Lo Green is a hip hop artist known nowadays mostly by “Fuck You” and “Crazy”, which will be spoke about later on this same review. However, before 2006, he wasn’t exactly famous. In fact, he was a sinking ship: having a failed solo career with two really low selling albums and even working with Santana on the album Supernatural didn’t do any good to him. The worst part is that there was some heavy investment before he made it big, so you can really see that people saw some talent in this guy.

DJ Danger Mouse is like the Democratic Party to Lewis Black: he is THE guy of bad ideas. Not alike Cee Lo Green, which career started as early as 1995 in the Goodie Mob, Danger Mouse only achieved success in 2004, two years prior to this album, with something that I like to call one of the worst albums ever: The Grey Album, which combined Beatles and Jay-Z. After that, he produced Gorillaz’s Demon Days and The Mouse and the Mask with MF DOOM (all in caps, of course). And to be honest, after this album, I can’t really say that his name was ever associated with anything good.

They met while Cee Le Green was on tour that Danger Mouse was being a DJ. The name came after fake names that substituted some of the artistic name to “Gnarls”, in this case the basketball player Charles Barkley.

The cover of the album is reminiscent of graffiti, drawn like a revolting statement that could be seen in almost every wall in the world (if, or course, there is a talented wall artist in their neighbourhood), perfect for any alternative hip hop album, as it really puts you in the mood to hear almost about anything the genre has to offer. The elapsed time of the entire album is 37:20, which is lower than the Bieber album, with the longest song, Just a Thought, running 3:42 and the shortest song, Feng Shui, playing only 1:26, which shows that it’s fourteen short tracks.

This album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album and although debuted at number twenty in the billboards, the single Crazy stayed 9 weeks as number 1 single. With that being said, let’s dive right into it: St. Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley.

1st track: “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” – Strange, strange song. It’s as crazy as the title announces it, being a sort of gospel with some electronic drums and trumpet. I can’t understand a word of the lyrics, because the samples are loud, obnoxiously high. The overall song is annoying and is a hideous start to this album. The only good side is that is relatively short, although it is repetitive to the point that you can’t really tell that it is that short.

2nd track: “Crazy” – I’m not going to stall it: most people already know this song, so I won’t dwell to long on it. This song is awesome. It was voted the best song of the decade, and it really may be the best mainstream song, but isn’t my pick (I would say that it should be a Tally Hall song). The melody, however, is not originally by the duo: it is from a movie called “Viva! Django”, a spaghetti western, but if you listen to the original, you wouldn’t get the connection unless somebody pointed it to you. The lyrics are simple but creative, dabbling with insanity and pleading craziness right in the first two sentences. The song is strong and to this day, it may be my favorite hip hop song ever, although it is not a traditional hip hop tune.

3rd track: “St. Elsewhere” – Songs like these are the one that I will try to explain as further as I can, as I’m not a hip hop fan by any stretch of the imagination. This song sucks, but I’ll try to be fair. The song is just Cee Lo Green’s singing with a strange melody and some really bad effects. I don’t know why, maybe it was his style back then, but he doesn’t have any rhythm. It’s not syncopation; it’s a lack of any rhythm. When the song changes to a bit more of a reggae song (it’s not a reggae, it just becomes a little more reggae), it loses me completely. And the overall song doesn’t make me feel the need to check what the lyrics say, because for what I could gather, or at least that’s what it sounds like, it’s just unrelated verses being sprouted. And I’ll say this: at first, I tried to understand the lyrics, but at some point, it becomes impossible for me. Maybe it is good for a certain area of the music public, but… every song ever released was targeted to someone, so that’s not a compliment.

4th track: “Gone Daddy Gone” – A promising intro kind of like early eighties punk rock and strangely, at the same, Gorillaz, but that may be Danger Mouse’s influence. The song is very much rock oriented and is a pleasant song to listen, even though the electronic drums and synthesizer may throw you out, the guitar throws you back in. The lyrics, repetitive as they are, are still amusing and give you a pretty solid hot girl on the corner song.

5th track: “Smiley Faces” – This song is strange, because I think it’s the first time I can’t understand if I like a song or not. Melodically, the song is just noise, an electronic drum that is a pain to my ears and the singing that this time around, really breaks me. But the back vocals are pretty well done, the bridge with only vocals and drums that is insightful and a strange guitar and keyboards part I kind of liked. I would recommend this one just so someone could take a guess whether it’s good or bad.

6th track: “The Boogie Monster” – This is one of those songs that the melody is so boring that the lyrics, repetitive but great, don’t support it. The melody is standard boring, with an electronic everything and Cee Lo Green singing that, once more, sounds as if he’s bored out of his skull, filling a quota of songs. The lyrics are pretty interesting with some ideas that may catch your ears, but it sounds so boring that I wouldn’t blame you for lack of interest in finding out about it.

7th track: “Feng Shui” – The shortest song, a song that I don’t know if I didn’t get or there’s nothing to get from it. It’s a 1:20 song complaining that everything must be according to Feng Shui, which I believe is kind of oriental philosophy that has something to do with furniture placement (at least that’s how it interfered in my life, almost nothing as it did), and the melody is really really bad, if any. So, yeah: the only good thing about this song is that it is short.

8th track: “Just A Thought” – As I get deeper into this album, I get the feeling that it is filler with two good tracks. I’m hearing a fucking spam album. Another crappy tune, with lo-fi electronic drums that don’t have any sense of rhythm, guitars completely misplaced and although the singing is the greater so far on the album since “Crazy”, it is so crappy that you couldn’t care less: it is annoying, distracting and god awful. The lyrics are good, but again, it’s so poorly made that you don’t care about the fucking lyrics. The outro is just complete rubbish, with the addition of an annoying keyboard and noise that could make a headache in the strongest of minds. The biggest song on the album sounds like fucking filler.

9th track: “Transformer” – Fun intro devolving into an average to good song. The rapping is quite good, to be completely honest, the background noise is distracting, the electronic drums is not my cup of tea, but on most parts, is Cee Lo Green playing with an voice modifier, and that is kind of cool. It’s a bipolar song, to be honest, with some interesting parts and a boring chorus.

10th track: “Who Cares?” – This was going to be the name of the album, “Who Cares?”, because Cee Lo Green anticipated low sales, but was completely wrong, as I stated before. This song is decent. Is not bad, it would be one of the songs that I would recommend listening to. This time around, I don’t really care for the electronic… everything. The chorus has only one verse, which is creative to say the least, and it’s a fun verse at that. I wouldn’t recommend listening to it over and over again (as I had to do), but as a part of the album after a horrible song and an average song, you could get some kicks off it.

11th track: “Online” – As the songs starts, the only thing that I could think of is “this song would be cool if only instrumental”. It has a flute sample playing often, but not as often as it should’ve been. The vocals are the worst singing in the entire album so far till the point of 1:10, where he sings like he should’ve sung the entire time, and it gets somewhat enjoyable after that, but it doesn’t redeem the song. The last 10 seconds of the song are reminiscent of a background of rap that I enjoy, with just the bass and beat, but it goes away quickly with the addition of a few samples of the song.

12th track: “Necromancer” – This song gets the medal for most disturbing song that I ever reviewed. I’m going to use the Zappa card: most of the songs on the second disc of the hideous album were disturbing, but none of them was disturbing as this one. The song is badly recorded, the background noise is crap, the keyboard is so peripheral that it leaves no behind and, I swear to you, it is about necrophilia. There’s no hiding it, no metaphor: it’s just about necrophilia. I don’t understand what the audience for a song like this one is. So, moving on. I can’t, I really can’t. This one leaved a mark so deep. It is bad, it is disturbing, creepy, boring, bland, uselessly shocking to a point that it doesn’t have any shock value whatsoever.

13th track: “Storm Coming” – This is a more traditional low key Gnarls Barkley song, with nothing that attracts too much and incredibly annoying songs. I don’t know if the last song numbed me to the point where I think this is good and it isn’t, but it isn’t horrible, to say the least. I can’t really say lots about it. The chorus is actually cool and imaginative, but the rest of the song is bland.

14th track: “The Last Time” – The last song of the album is actually good, reminding me of the funky songs of the seventies, and with Cee Lo Green singing, it doesn’t fall short, although I can feel that he isn’t full spirited in this one: heck, he hasn’t been full spirited in most songs of this album. The lyrics are straight forward and cool to listen to. It even has a vocal solo that brings some attention to itself. My only complaint is that is longer and grows thin near the end: it could’ve been considerably short. The album ends with that sound that a projector movie reel does when it ends, which is a pretty strong way to end and album.

So, how does it all hold up? This one was a fucking beast to tame. I had to stop for about 2 weeks to grasp on it entirely, when most albums take me three days to have at least some preliminary thinking. It’s not the best album of the decade at any stretch of the imagination, but Crazy is a pretty strong tune. And although the album never goes as near to the quality that is Crazy, it has some good tracks, like “The Last Time”, “Who Cares” and “Gone Daddy Gone”, but most of it, is experimental rubbish. I would recommend this to someone that likes experimental and wacky stuff with bare minimum production value, but that’s the far that I would get. People with some sort of musical taste: stay away if you can. The 2000 decade is not lost, I reviewed some better albums of the decade, so do not lose hope as we venture further more in the neo ’10 decade.

This is JotaKa, signing of.

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