Gnarls Barkley broke out hard with the debut single “Crazy,” and earned critical acclaim with St Elsewhere. It was like 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:
All things considered though, “Crazy” is arguably the duo’s biggest hit, the buzz surrounding which, may well have been the peak of the musical careers of both Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green, in terms of celebrity.
Granted Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton (of The Grey Album fame) and Cee-Lo Green (of Atlanta hip hop group Goodie Mob fame) are successful artists respectively. However, prior to working together, they had been largely underground successes, who had toiled in virtual obscurity for years, and developed cult followings. With their powers combined, they blew the minds of music fans with their genre bending, soulfully dramatic, innovative style.
Examining the pair’s careers individually, it is rather obvious that “Crazy” seems is an anomalous hit, 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.
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 you also take 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.
Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em though, there is no denying that Gnarls Barkley is one of the most creative and innovative groups of our time. But for artists like Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse, having a breakout hit like “Crazy” is a rare, albeit deserved, occurrence indeed.