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Gnarls Barkley "The Odd Couple" ★★★½
Gnarls Barkley has such a well-founded reputation for eccentricity - dressing up as tennis players, airplane pilots, and "Wizard of Oz" characters, or just acting "Crazy" - that it's easy to forget how serious the genre-bending duo of Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse is. It's hard to miss it though, if you listen closely to "The Odd Couple," the soul-rap-rock-experimental-pop duo's follow-up to their celebrated 2006 debut, "St. Elsewhere."
On the surface, the long-awaited and now rush-released album - expected April 8, it came out digitally last week and hit stores March 25 - comes off as effusive, idiosyncratic, and downright kooky enough to satisfy fans. And Danger Mouse's production is simultaneously subversive and pop-savvy. But as a soul man whose crackly, bottom-heavy voice is an underrated instrument, Green unburdens himself of many a verse suggesting that being the popular class clown isn't always such a laugh riot.
"I don't have any friends at all/'cause I got nothing in common with y'all," he sings in "Whatever." "So who's going to catch me if I fall?" Similar desperation is voiced in the ghostly "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?" "Surprise" uses a Hawaii Five-O style surf-rock wave to inform us that "everything that's alive eventually dies." This follow-up doesn't include anything as outrageously undeniable as "Crazy," but it's consistently stronger than its predecessor.
The Kills "Midnight Boom" ★★★
The South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, last week was crawling with girl-boy duos: The Raveonettes, Matt and Kim, She and Him. Grungiest of the lot was the Kills, the tandem of American Allison Mosshart and Britisher (and Kate Moss boyfriend) Jamie Hince. "Midnight Boom" is the duo's third and best album, a raw burst of punk-blues riffage dolled up with catchy handclap rhythms and ooh-oohing backup vocals. The Kills sometimes announce their predilection for the dark side with too heavy a hand - "I want expensive sadness/Hospital bills, parole/Open doors to madness," Mosshart rhymes, too tamely, in "Cheap and Cheerful." But if Midnight Boom is never spectacular in its depravity, it is consistently pleasurable as it takes a satisfying stroll on the wild side.