It may be presumptuous to assume who plays slovenly Oscar to fastidious Felix in Gnarls Barkley. Still, this Odd Couple has proven surprisingly well-matched. After all, their pairing yielded a Grammy-winning debut, 2006's St. Elsewhere, and the interplay between avant producer Danger Mouse and rapper/singer/Curtis Mayfield disciple Cee-Lo Green remains a gratifying alchemical achievement.
Alas, there is no genre-smashing standout single à la ''Crazy'' here. But The Odd Couple, Gnarls' dense second album (unexpectedly released three weeks before its originally scheduled April 8 drop date), is a compulsively listenable, if somber, effort. Where Elsewhere was shaded with melancholy and paranoia beneath its party-starter exterior, on Odd, the duo goes all-out apocalyptic. The dolefully paced ''Who's Gonna Save My Soul'' is nearly dirgelike: ''I wonder if I'll live to grow old now/Getting high because I feel so low down.'' Meanwhile, first single ''Run,'' with its charging horns and call-and-response vocals, is musically more propulsive but hardly comforting, and neither is the song's subtitle, ''I'm a Natural Disaster.'' Nevertheless, Odd is impeccably produced and impressively layered, an esoteric love letter to both of-the-moment studio trickery and bone-deep vintage soul. It might well let down the dance floor and for that Gnarls will likely pay in sales but it's rare that anything beat-driven reveals this much humanity, no matter how darkly expressed. B+
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