Gnarls Barkley: The Music Industry Darling Lives Up to the Hype

I’m certain you’ve heard it by now, but “What the heck is a “Gnarls Barkley?”” Could it be a play on former NBA star, Charles Barkley? HmmâÂ?¦ Gnarl? Bark? No, it sounds more like some sort of mad dog, a “hound of the Baskervilles.” Publicly at least, there’s been some question as to just who or what is Gnarls Barkley. Is it a place, or a thing? Is he a person? This subterfuge has been aided by stories and snippets surfacing on several web sites which relate connections to a “Gnarls Barkley.”

Barkley, apparently a male, is apparently listed as an affiliate on the membership rolls of the Dungeon Family, an Atlanta-area Hip-Hop collective, and Elephant Six, psychedelic coalition based in Athens, Georgia. “He” has been reported as a guest at various events and parties. Yet, “he” is ever elusive; it’s seemingly only possible to catch him scorching up the charts.

Does his name call to mind something sweet and sugary? It should. But Gnarls Barkley is not a man. No. Who would have thought from hearing a name such as this that one of the sweetest sounding duos to grace the billboard charts in recent years would follow suit? The duo of Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Calloway), member of Goodie Mob and an eclectic solo artist; and Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), late of Grey Album (an unauthorized mixing of Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album) fame; have taken the music world by muted storm and mystery cloud.

Its avowed members, Green and Danger Mouse, apparently discuss Barkley as if he were a separate person. The two have reportedly been seen in the company of a gentleman dressed like “H. R. Puff-n-Stuff” who signs notes using the moniker. (Check out “Who is Gnarls Barkley?” on the group’s website, gnarlsbarkley.com.) All of this must be taken with a grain of salt, of course, for it is to be found on the website of the group itself. At any rate, the hype, whether contrived or genuine, has worked its charm, and the group is now a bona fide hot property.

I first caught a whisper of the impending buzz a few weeks ago, when AllHipHop.com posted an interview snippet with Green wherein he discussed collaborating with Danger Mouse, and announced that the duo were releasing an album as “Gnarls Barkley.” Around the same time, the British music industry press was rife with kudos over the duo scoring a number one single based only upon download sales. (Previously song download sales had not been given much credence, but having a record hit the tops of the charts due to download sales made the industry take notice quick.) I admit the name made me curious before I knew even what it was all about. But once I discovered the identities of the group my interest was cemented.

As a Georgia native, I’ve been a fan of Cee-Lo Green since his Dungeon Family days. I think he is nothing short of fabulous. His voice, showcased on the hooks of several hip-hop hits, is so distinctive; it’s like sugar water and syrup sliding down your ear canal. And I admired Danger Mouse for his audacity in producing mixes and for his musical ear. To say this duo has mass amounts of creativity at its beck and call would be an understatement.

Bitten by the hype, I quickly searched out sample tracks to hear what the collaboration had produced. The group has already smitten the internet, for there is no shortage of links with information on them, including an entry in Wikipedia, and mentions on numerous other web sites. (Google them, if you don’t believe me.) As luck would have it, a music review site that I frequent was playing a snippet of “Crazy,” the song which scored a number on the UK charts by virtue of download sales alone.

From the first falsetto note, I was hooked. (Green has such wonderful tone and caliber that I find it hard not to smile whenever I hear him. And Danger Mouse has brought some wondrous overlays and synthesis of musical notes and forms that perfectly accentuate the vocals.) I salivate at the prospects of the rest of the album, having heard just two tracks (the previously mentioned “Crazy” and “Smiley Faces,” both of which are available to preview won the group’s website). The tracks mix a bit of it all, stirring soul, bass riffs, symphony overtures… It’s fresh, and witty. Old school and hip all at once.

But don’t listen to me, listen to the cacophony of fans – and there are legions of them, as everyone and his sister wants to be on the bandwagon – who have proceeded to make “St. Elsewhere” (the duo’s debut) a top prospect on iTunes and other download charts, as well as the more traditional outlets both stateside, across the pond and elsewhere. Or better yet listen to it for yourself.

Whoever the mythical Gnarls Barkley is, and wherever he may be, he must be grinning from ear to ear, laughing at the wonders he’s left in his wake.

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