Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Me And Gnarls B.

Photo: Scott Gries/Getty

Here’s my piece on Gnarls Barkley in today’s NY Times.

Of course we had to leave out a lot of great stuff. Here’s some extras:

* “St. Elsewhere” sold about 3 million copies worldwide. So the buzz on the record in the industry almost outstripped that on the street.

Last summer, Billboard Magazine seemed to capture the feelings of a hit-starved industry when it featured Gnarls on its cover trumpeting “Christmas In July” and touting “The Odd Couple” as the most anticipated album of the fourth-quarter. When Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse failed to deliver either a single or an album by then—the two said they needed more time to polish—no one would have been surprised to find panic in the halls of Atlantic.

Instead, chairman and CEO Craig Kallman seemed comfortable with letting the group finish the record. At a time when one-hit wonders are ascendant and album sales are declining, Kallman agreed that decision was “against the current”. He added, “I think, for us, having gnarls achieve their goals, we can only do this in a way that looks at [their music] in a very traditional sense, as a body of work, as a full-length album.”

* In their riotous videos and stylized performances, they’ve played with what Times writer Nate Chinen calls “miserable exuberance”. The naked lechery of “Gone Daddy Gone”, for instance, became a Kafkaesque cartoon featuring Cee-Lo as a smitten bug whose object of affection, a housewife of the spotless suburban New Frontier, is holding the can of Raid. Even as the green cloud descends, he wears a smile that can light up a room. At the MTV Movie Awards, Cee-Lo performed “Crazy” without the Vader helmet on. He was unmasking the song’s rage and hurt, while wearing a big black cape.

* Their first collabo was on a Jemini song about cars & rims.

* “Surprise” is based on a Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood sample…!

* “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?” was premiered in late February via a short-lived Youtube video featuring ?uestlove lip-synching the lyrics.

* The quotable Cee-Lo, part 1: “In actuality, [Gnarls Barkley is] probably one of the most innocent things I’ve ever done. I don’t mind saying there’s quite a bit of humanity in it. But it’s equal parts superhero too. All of us can relate to Bruce Wayne’s story as opposed to being in some laboratory and getting bit by a spider. You see what I’m saying?”

* The uncensored Cee-Lo, part 2: “If there was a formula to it, I would cut this interview short and go to the studio. I would be such an asshole!”

Here’s the piece. Enjoy…:

ON a late February afternoon Gnarls Barkley, the duo known for its funny costumes and psychedelic post-hip-hop sound, was unmasked and at rest at a quiet hotel in Beverly Hills. Cee-Lo Green, the short, heavily tattooed singing and lyric-writing half, had just finished a snack of sushi. Danger Mouse, the tall, scruffy producing half, was wiping sleep from his eyes after a head-down nap on a marble table.

They were pondering how their second album, “The Odd Couple,” then unreleased, might be received, given the buzz that it was a good deal weirder and darker than their million-selling debut, “St. Elsewhere” from 2006.

“It’s going to be a surprise for me,” said Danger Mouse, 30, whose real name is Brian Burton, in a baritone you might hear on late-night soul radio. “It may be really big or really modest, I don’t know.”

Clues came much more quickly than the two probably expected…

Read the whole thing here.

posted by @ 4:42 am | 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Me And Gnarls B.”

  1. evan says:

    Really nice look at GB and glad you didn’t have to dumb it down at all in introducing them to new listeners. How was your time with them during the interview?

  2. Zentronix says:

    def enjoyed hanging with them… dm seems reluctant to discuss his craft, tho. perhaps the aftermath of the grey album hangs a little heavy on him.

  3. Caro says:

    Great piece, Jeff. Was the only thing I read in the section that day. Covered a lot of ground concisely and didn’t just stay at the level of “ooh, check their whacky songs and costumes.”

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