Gnarls Barkley

“Crazy,” the lead single from Gnarls Barkley’s first long-player, St. Elsewhere, wasn’t just 2006’s biggest pop song. It’s likely to be a signature track for the entire decade — a demographic-crossing, radio-format-busting phenomenon that singer Cee-Lo Green never saw coming. “‘Crazy’ is no different than any of the other things we’ve done, I don’t think,” he says from a tour stop in Paris prior to a performance with producer Brian “Danger MouseBurton, his ingenious Barkley partner. “Maybe that’s something I’ve got to figure out in time. But it’s equally eccentric, and it was never meant to be as commercially celebrated as it was. It’s a very serious song, as is the album as a whole. We don’t concentrate on singles. We’re reveling in the glory days of the full-length album. That’s what we’re about: complete thoughts.”

Maybe so, but the size and scope of the ditty’s popularity burdened Elsewhere’s successor, this spring’s The Odd Couple, with impossible expectations, and that’s a shame. Even though the latest effort is actually better than the debut — deeper and more consistent, with the irresistible groovers “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)” and “Surprise” standing out from the pack — the disc earned highly variable reviews and sales have been modest. “I guess it’s something you could expect,” Green concedes. “We, of course, didn’t set out to disappoint anyone, but all we could truly be was ourselves and continue on. I think it would have been a lot more disappointing for us to attempt to do another ‘Crazy’ and have it be obvious and deliberate and us not succeed at it and us feel afterward that we should’ve just gone with our hearts.

“We didn’t want to fail at being honest,” he goes on, gaining momentum with every word. “There’s always success in being yourself. So I believe that we are completely successful and victorious, and you just can’t please everyone. And we weren’t even trying to. A lot of our music ends up being cathartic and very expressive and inventive and experimental. So it’s never our intention to be entertainment or amusement to anyone. If you’re entertained or amused by it ultimately, then so be it; that’s just fine. But we don’t start off that way.”

Even as Green is working to get Coupleheard, he’s trying to interest labels in a new recording by his ’90s-era hip-hop group, the Goodie Mob — and the perception that the collective is past its prime frustrates him. “I know that pretty girls sell records and little kids sell records,” he says. “But as long as we can exist as an alternative, it’s fair to me.”

Anything less would be crazy.
Sat., June 28, 2 p.m., 2008

 
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