Unless you’ve been busily glued to Bid-Up-TV auctions, watching and waiting for that all-important once-in-a-lifetime gold-immitation necklace and knife set purchasing-possibility; or, if you have a particular aversion to ‘commercially-run’ radio stations (including the BBC) because they bring you out in a terrible rash which can only be treated by dousing yourself in the aural-lotion that is known as foreign radio (like New Zealand’s George FM, for example), then you would not have been able to avoid hearing, at least once, the biggest and most infectiously great single of the moment, Crazy by Gnarls Barkley.
Crazy is currently so popular that only a few days ago it became the very first single to reach the number 1 spot in the charts without being released in physical format. It reached the top spot entirely on the newly-included (and quite rightly so) downloadable purchases.
But who is this Gnarls Barkley? And, more importantly, is he Patsy-Cline ‘crazy’ or Murdoch-from-the-A-Team ‘crazy’ (fool)?
Some say that he is half man, half woman, half squawking parrot roaming the streets of Detroit in search of the ghosts of Motown; some say he is an idea dreamt up by a team of savvy marketing gurus that are playing a practical joke on the music-loving millions across the globe. However, two gents that probably should have a fair idea about the true identity of this allusive pop idol are the production superstar Danger Mouse and his yodelling-Penfold Cee-Lo. They know because they actually co-wrote the single and the forthcoming album.
“He’s not Damon Albarn – I can blow that myth out of the water for you,” declares Danger Mouse, helpfully. Whereas Cee-Lo refers to Gnarls only as, “the dude who owes me thirty-five dollars.”
Cheers lads, very informative! Perhaps we shouldn’t trust our sources, what do we really know about their credentials?
Firstly, Cee-Lo Green (or Thomas Calloway to ‘is Mum n’ Dad) is a friend to Outkast, a former Goodie Mob member and, most significantly of recent times, one of the co-writers we need to thank for the Pussycat Dolls’ Don’t Cha. Cee-Lo provided the haunting gospel-blues vocals for Crazy. Allegedly, Danger Mouse played the intrumental version of the track on loop for a few hours whilst he and Cee-Lo chatted about death, suicide and stardom. It got Cee-Lo so in the mo’ for singing that he did the vo’cals in one complete and uninterupted take.
Brian Burton, aka Pelican City, aka Danger Mouse, spent much of his time in Georgia (the US state, not the Black Sea-bordering former Soviet republic) where he used his electronica re-mix skills on artists such as Neutral Milk Hotel. His subsequent rise to fame, especially here in the UK, is predominantly more documented due to two main reasons.
Firstly, on the back of the collaborative 2003 Ghetto Pop Life album, with MC Jemini (and a few Pharcyde-sized name drops), he produced The Grey Album in 2004 – a much-hyped remix jigsaw that pieced together a multitude of stolen riffs off The Beatles’ White Album and a belly full of beats from The Black Album by Beyonce-shagging, Jay-Z. He received many an accolade for this triumphant work that included, ‘ultimate remix record’ from Rolling Stone magazine and a ‘Men of the Year’ nomination by GQ magazine. It was also the sole reason that Sir Paul McCantgowrongly, Linkin Park and Jay-Z stole the show at the Grammy awards in February of this year with their interpretation of their own music as previously mixed by Danger Mouse.
What made the album so impressive, however, and the second reason to have formerly heard of Danger Mouse, was the cease-and-desist order received by him from EMI after they cited copyright infringement on the production. This not only made it an instant cult classic but also, and rather strangely, got the attention of a certain Damon Albarn who, on the lookout for a new producer for the Gorillaz second album, Demon Days, bestowed the honour upon Danger Mouse. Thus forcing the EMI-owned Virgin Records to then follow their cease-and-desist order with a request for his employable services. The project was a complete success and even earned Danger Mouse a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year.
Since Demon Days, Danger Mouse has produced Mouse and the Mask, another collaborative album (this time with MF Doom) and has even found the time to produce the theme song to console game, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. As well as Gnarls rumours, they has been gossip abounding about further work with Albarn and a solo album.
Quite simply, he’s the greatest! He’s fantastic! Wherever there is danger, he’ll be there! He’s the ace! He’s amazing! He’s the strongest, he’s the quickest, he’s the best! ….And he’s definitely the greatest secret agent in the world! (*It had to be done)
The Gnarls Barkley album, St. Elsewhere, is due for release on 24th April, and thanks to the popularity of the single it has already claimed the #2 position in the HMV pre-release album sales chart, just below Mr Morrissey (although I cant think why?!).
Knowing Gnarls (surely a book in the making there?!) might well reach it’s ultimate finale very soon when Barkley plays a live set for the very first time on April 30th. The lucky witnesses will also be there, at the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival (USA), to see bands such as Tool, Massive Attack and Bloc Party. In this country, however, we will have to wait until June 23rd for his/their appearance at the Wireless Festival in London.
According to the official website, a Waffle House restaurant cook in South Carolina recalls seeing Danger Mouse, Cee-Lo and a third gentleman entering his establisment back in 2000. After they had finished eating, Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo left, while the third unknown man stayed behind for a while longer in order to feed his coffee addiction. Once he’d finished he left behind a $500 tip and a note that read simpy, ‘Compliments to the chef. Gnarls Barkley.’
My guess is that Mr Mouse actually conceptualised the Gnarls Barkley idea whilst working with the ‘virtual’ band Gorillaz, and that Gnarls is more an abstract paradigm than a real person. However, it still seems likely that whoever, or whatever, Gnarls may be, he is both a Patsy AND a Murdoch kind of ‘crazy’.