No One's Cooler than Gnarls Barkley (I Checked)
When I've had too much to drink--which means I've had, like, half a glass of champagne--I sometimes go off on how much I hate the "shelf/self" rhyme in song lyrics. Countless songwriters use the couplet. Take this sample from "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by Georgia Satellites:
My honey, my baby, don't put my love up on no shelf
She said, "Don't hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself."
That's usually how we hear it. Some singer doesn't want his or her love to be put up on a shelf. Or they don't wan't to be on a shelf themselves. Or they're sorry they put their lover on a shelf. You get the picture. The idea of love on a shelf appears in so many songs that you'd think the general public considers the notion all the time.
But really? No one ever does. When in daily speech have you overheard a colleague saying, "Seriously, Dan, I love Margie, but she keeps putting my love on a shelf?" Never.
This cliche exists only within the bubble of songwriting, which makes it extremely phony and unconvincing.
The reason it's used, of course, is that "shelf" is about the only word that rhymes with "self," so songwriters have little other choice. (Except "pelf," but how often do you get to say that?) The clunky, unnatural phrase is built out of necessity. I still hate it, though.
But sometimes songwriters will use the couplet in a surprising way, and I fall in artistic love with them. Well, that can't be the only reason, but it helps.
Take Gnarls Barkley (awesomely aping Napoleon Dynamite to your left), the hip-hop/ rock/ funk/ just-plain-weird musical duo comprised of DJ Dangermouse (left) and rapper-singer Cee-Lo Green. Their debut album "St. Elsewhere" is one of the most exciting I've heard in years. It's just so... hard to describe. The music is dance-able, but it's not dance music. It rocks, but there's too much soul singing to make it rock.
But Gnarls Barkley's music doesn't need a category. It's obvious from the first song--"Go-Go Gadget Gospel"--that these men know exactly what they're doing, so we should trust them.
And unlike, say, Fall Out Boy, their weirdness doesn't seem like an act. (Come on Fall Out Boy... aren't your song titles just a little too cheeky?) I know for a fact that Cee-Lo has been mashing up rock and hip-hop for years on his solo records, and DJ Dangermouse famously smushed The Beatles' "White Album" and Jay-Z's "Black Album" into "The Grey Album." Gnarls Barkley is the fascinating outcome of two unique artists pushing each other to new places.
We get to savor rewards like the song "Crazy," a soul jam which was number one in England for nine weeks. Or "The Boogie Monster," which takes a sample of "The Monster Mash" and turns it into a creepy, funky jam.
Along with the excellent songs, we also get to enjoy the rare hip-hop act who seems to have a sense of humor about themselves.
Take a look at the photos! Granted, some of their songs deal with serious subjects like suicide--and quite well--but most of the music is simple, loopy fun. They just want to talk about how awesome they are. Or they want to talk about how they're Transformers. Like the cartoon. I'm not kidding, and I'm so happy I'm not.
And sometimes they want to talk about feng shui. At less than two minutes, the song "Feng Shui" distillates why they are so cool. Over a slinky beat, Cee-Lo raps about how he is so balanced that everything in his life has to adhere to the Chinese philosophy of interior design. "You're welcome to stay," he tell us, "but even your company must compliment the feng shui." That's some serious shit.
Cool beat, cool subject. But best of all? The following lyrics. Describing his house, Cee-Lo says he has
a plant, a pet, books on a shelf
and a frame on the wall where you can picture yourself
Which makes perfect sense! The trite rhyme is revitalized!
Just one more reason that no one is cooler than Gnarls Barkley.
(p.s.--They're definitely cooler than me. It took me over a week to figure out that their name is a play on basketball star Charles Barkley.)
Labels: R+B / Hip-Hop