When Gnarls Barkley broke out with the debut single "Crazy," it was as if they literally started a craze. The song was in high rotation on practically every radio station, became a standard for Las Vegas lounge performers, and sparked other strange and creative remakes. The album St. Elsewhere won critical acclaim but may well have been the peak of the musical careers of both Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo, in terms of celebrity.
This is not to say that Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton (of The Grey Album fame) and Cee-Lo Green (of Atlanta hip hop group Goodie Mob fame) are not successful artists respectively. However, they were largely underground successes, who had toiled in virtual obscurity for years, and developed cult followings. And with their powers combined, they blew the minds of music fans with their genre bending, soulfully dramatic, innovative style.
The thing is, when looking at the pair's individual careers, "Crazy" seems rather an anomaly, in terms of mainstream success. While critics seem to love Gnarls for the duo's intricate contradictions and dark lyrical imagery, Danger Mouse's filmy retro production, and Cee-Lo's effectual crooning; some people were not so impressed. In fact, when reading through comments from music blog readers, one would have to wonder what it is about Gnarls Barkley that polarizes music fans so.
Let's examine this for a moment, shall we? Cee-Lo had for years before Gnarls, been looking for a breakout success as a solo artist after Goodie Mob fell off. His solo debut – Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections – was respectable, but entirely too indulgent; his second solo release was great, but was almost completely under the radar. Danger Mouse is a producer and while invaluable to the creation of music, "famous" producers are few and far between. The job of a producer is foundational but background nonetheless.
When also taking into account the eccentric and cerebral tendencies of both artists, it's no wonder that the collaboration results in music for music nerds. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but there are people for whom music is a study; people who like music they have to think about and analyze, and others for whom it's just not that serious. Critics tend to love this kind of music because, well, most critics are nerds about the subject matter.
Love 'em or hate 'em though, there is no denying that Gnarls Barkley is arguably one of the most creative and innovative groups of our time. But the truth is that for artists like Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse, having a breakout hit like "Crazy" is a rare albeit deserved occurrence indeed.
This article has been cross-posted from Listen In Music.