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Gnarls Barkley – “St. Elsewhere” (Album Review)

I love Dangermouse’s work. Hopefully, in an ideal world, he’ll take the reins left by the passing of J-Dilla earlier this year. In a world of sound-the-same swirly Neptunes production and bloated sample-heavy Kanye West copycats, Dangermouse stands at the pinnacle of hip-hop production. Any man who can deliver such differing yet excellent all-the-same creations (the jaw-aching masterpiece that is “Ghetto Pop Life”, the EMI-baiting Jay-Z/The Beatles mash-up “The Grey Album” or the furiously kitsch fun of last years Gorillaz “Demon Days” offering) deserves to silence the nay-sayers. The reason I proclaim my love for Dangermouse (or Cee-Lo for that matter – I was one of the few who championed his “Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine” album) is because I knew it’d be difficult to review “St. Elsewhere” without bias.

First, the good news. This album is good. In fact, parts of it are very good. Unfortunately, this is also part of the problem. Only parts of the album are good – the dark funk flirtation with suicide on “Just A Thought” being a particularly stand-out. Cee-Lo sounds as fresh and soul machine-y as ever, and Dangermouse’s production is continually tight, as on the excellent “Who Cares” and “The Last Time”. However, whilst subsequent listening reveal many great ideas, the album is just too short and, as such, its downfall. Out of the 14 tracks, only four push the 3-minute mark (including the remarkably crisp and cheery (possible new single?) ‘Smiley Faces’), but some tracks could have been fleshed out – “On-Line” would benefit from a longer duration for instance.

Dangermouse has mentioned in interviews that the albums length is part of its immediate appeal but, conversely, “St. Elsewhere”’s brusqueness means that there’s just not enough material to work with. The pinnacle of Cee-Lo’s career? Possibly. The single-take vocal on ‘Crazy’ cements this claim completely. The pinnacle of Dangermouse’s career? Probably not. “Ghetto Pop Life” is much better but, of course, not as unapologetically fun. And that’s what “St. Elsewhere” is – a short fun album that uplifts but, ultimately, makes you yearn for more. This is a shame, although, ironically, an enjoyable shame. (Review by J.M. Ross)