Will Gnarls Barkley Dodge The Sophomore Slump? (Possibly…Not.)

craaazyyy.jpgThe issue of Billboard currently on newsstands features Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and Cee-Lo, a.k.a. Gnarls Barkley, on the cover–in a surprisingly non-movie-related getup of long johns and colored lights. (Maybe it’s an homage to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?) Inside, correspondent Todd Martens leads off the magazine’s holiday album preview with an interview in which the gnarly duo talks about the follow-up to last year’s chart-and-critic-approved St. Elsewhere. Burton gives the writer a listen to a mysterious, unnamed new song, which Martens describes as “an even deeper slice of soul than anything from St. Elsewhere [with] the most forceful vocal performance Cee-Lo has ever given.” But for all the upbeat chitchat, Burton already sounds–shocker!–like he’s cracking a little under the typical second-record pressure.

Can you blame him? St. Elsewhere gave Atlantic Records a surprise, much-appreciated earnings pop last summer, and as Billboard points out, the industry has an even deeper hole to dig itself out of this year (first-half 2007 record sales are down 15% year-on-year). Burton, of course, makes the case that the label isn’t pressuring them to deliver a rehash of the first album, and the label execs are quoted saying they give Burton free reign to express himself as he sees fit. But then, there’s the crazy elephant in the room–the little matter of following up That Song:

Without “Crazy,” Burton says St. Elsewhere would have been little more than “an indie, underground record that didn’t do very well.” But with “Crazy,” it has sold 1.3 million units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And now, despite the deadlines from Atlantic, as well as the label’s decision to present Gnarls Barkley as one of its blockbuster, holiday-timed releases, Burton appears out to prove that Gnarls Barkley was not then, and never will be, a singles act. He stresses his dislike for the Internet and doesn’t want a song to overshadow the new album, which has a name he declines–of course–to give.

“No song is ever done until we have all the material together,” he says. “When we have enough songs to the point where we have an album’s worth, then we’ll go in and start finishing them together, so they have a cohesiveness to them, and we know where they fit with each other. Some of the songs may be exactly the same, and some may end up being very different. That [new song] feels good, so I played it, and I had to offer some sort of proof that there is another record.”

Sure, there’ll be another record, but let’s face it: Burton has a near-impossible task ahead of himself–following up what will go down as one of the two or three greatest pop songs of the decade (one that garnered much love from a lot of those infernal Internet kids). “Crazy” was not just a pop happening but a post-iTunes phenomenon, and unless he’s planning to produce something seriously soccer-mom-and-hip-dad-friendly, he’ll have a hard time getting another 1.3 million people to buy the plastic-and-aluminum version of Gnarls Barkley v2.0.

Crazy Train: Gnarls Barkley [Billboard]

  • loudersoft

    There should be no pressure to create anything here because Gnarls Barkley came out of nowhere in the first place. However, “He stresses his dislike for the internet”???

    Isn’t this the same guy who blew up P2P with The Grey Album and made a name for himself? I call bullshit.

  • Audif Jackson Winters III

    @loudersoft: IIRC, “The Grey Album” was actually sold in very limited quantities in some (obviously less than big box) stores, and then made its way onto P2P when EMI cracked down on it. After that it became the cause du jour of the “information wants to be free” crowd. And Danger Mouse got the residuary p.r. benefit.

  • The Van Buren Boys

    St. Elsewhere is exactly the type of album the industry needs. A killer single, but also an albums worth of very good material to justify buying the whole thing and not just downloading the single. I have faith that this will be a good album though. I’ve been a fan of just about everything Danger Mouse has been involved in.

  • Anonymous

    personally, I liked Gnarles Barkley for the entire album, not just “Crazy.”

  • chrisb

    Really? I loved Crazy. Thought the rest of the album was crap.

  • Bazooka Tooth

    there is no way they can live up to the hype. before “crazy” the only people interested in this band, when they announced themselves, before the single came out, were Cee-lo fans and Danger Mouse fans. Given their relative obscurity, they had no pressure, and were free to do whatever they wanted.

    As a sincere Cee-lo fan, i hope DM gets him at least semi-rapping more than singing.

  • Adam Bernard

    I don’t think there should be any pressure on these two. They’re both talented individuals and they’ve proven they work well together. Whatever they come up with will be good. The only “pressure” would be for album sales, but that’s not what they were about in the first place.

  • Anonymous

    @chrisb: Don’t get me wrong, “Crazy” is fantastic. But I loved the entire album.

    @Adam Bernard: agreed!

  • janine

    I still prefer Cee-Lo solo (if he can’t be with the Goodie Mob). Even though he’s very uneven on his own, when he’s on point he’s better than Gnarls.

  • blobby

    Lo has never released a bad album. Or even a mediocre album. Simple as that.

  • loudersoft

    closet freaks of the world unite

  • chrisb

    @taylor t-sides: I’ll give it another listen. The Inspector Gadget and necrophilia references just weren’t my thing.

  • ens3000

    @taylor t-sides:

    me three….