We all know by now that DJ Danger Mouse rocketed to notoriety by remixing Jay-Z’s The Black Album with The Beatles’ White Album. The result was a pretty decent record called The Grey Album and it infuriated Mr. Z that someone would toss fresh beats onto the a cappella version of his album. You might be inclined to ask why Jay-Z would bother releasing an a cappella version of a hip-hop album if he didn’t want you to fuck with it. The bottom line, at any rate, is that The Grey Album will never see the light of day. It has been passed around by industrious bootleggers, but don’t expect it to come to your local FYE.
Danger Mouse has produced works for Gorillaz, collaborated with the likes of MF Doom, The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, and, of course, with Cee-Lo as the duo Gnarls Barkley.
Gnarls Barkley released “Crazy,” the catchiest single… um… ever in advance of St. Elsewhere, their debut. St. Elsewhere never lived up to the promise of “Crazy.” It wasn’t a dreadful album but it felt a little like a joke. It was just compelling enough to make my ears perk up when I heard that Gnarls was releasing a second album. So maybe they mean it after all?
The Odd Couple is a pop pleasure; it’s infinitely more melodic (if occasionally more melodramatic – “Open Book” is a little bit over the top) than its predecessor and it hangs together like a real album. It opens with the vague social concern song “Charity Case”, which is about as serious as the album gets. We can’t all be Billy Bragg, but you can throw Gnarls Barkley on at a party without killing everyone’s buzz. As much love as I have for Mr. Bragg, I cannot make the same claim about him.
Pound for pound, The Odd Couple has funkier beats, more interesting melodies, and more hooks than St. Elsewhere. I made it through St. Elsewhere about twice before I gave up on everything but “Crazy” (which the radio had already made me sick of) and the Violent Femmes cover “Gone Daddy Gone.” But I’ve been able to enjoy The Odd Couple several times now, and actually enjoy it more every time I hear it. It’s a testament to Danger Mouse’s talent that he can so adequately tailor his style to compliment his collaborators. He finds beats here that are the perfect backdrop for Cee-Lo’s high-pitched howling and the result is a light, fun listen unlike 90% of the pop music you can listen to today.
As if to prove that he can (and should) collaborate with anyone, Danger Mouse produced the new Black Keys album Attack & Release. It was originally to be a collaboration between the Keys and Ike Turner, produced by Danger Mouse. Turner, however, died before the sessions could be completed (cocaine is a helluva drug). The Black Keys were left with a handful of songs and a fantastic producer, and so they went to work putting together Attack & Release, arguably their best album to date.
I’ve been a Black Keys fan since Thickfreakness, which I listened to solely because it struck me as a righteously bold move for two white dudes from Ohio to name their album Thickfreakness. But it was a heavy motherfucker of an album, packed with some of the least watered-down blues I’ve heard this side of Hendrix. (The Black Keys have, on occasion, denied being a blues band – and they aren’t really – but the fact is, a lot of their songs are the blues and we really should be grateful. A lot of white guys have really co-opted and fucked up the blues, but the Black Keys seem to have a genuine grasp of the looseness, loudness, and unbridled woe required to make good blues.) The Black Keys kept trucking along right up through Rubber Factory, where they really tried to expand their sound (let’s face it – there’s only so much you can do with two people in your band). And then came Magic Potion, an album with eleven tracks, just like Attack & Release, only Magic Potion feels like it’s several hours longer. You could hear Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney wading through the sludge of their sound, trying to find more to do with drums and guitar, guitar and drums.