Gnarls Barkley: Matthew Donaldson
May 08, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

How do you categorize an album that blends hefty soul shouting, swirly techno, and creepy-crawly hip-hop? Not easy, but that’s the pleasure of this captivating collaboration between Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse, the nerd-rap brains behind the last Gorillaz disc and The Grey Album) and Goodie Mob belter Cee-Lo. Neither man has made a conventional record in his life, and on St. Elsewhere they’re not about to start. ”Crazy,” the record’s seamless fast-rising single, is Seal with meat on his bones. But the whirring rhythm and Cee-Lo’s messed-up brain (”Does that make me crazy?/Probably”) transport the song into inspired areas where mainstream R&B never ventures.

After that, Cee-Lo alternates between joy and jitters, digging into his paranoia one minute (”The Boogie Monster”) and throwing himself onto the dance floor the next (”The Last Time”). Between his mood swings and Burton’s willingness to shift tempos and textures, St. Elsewhere is a bumpy but mesmerizing ride. Their sense of humor is wonderful, but nothing beats soultronica gems like ”Just a Thought.” Cee-Lo tries to decide between love and suicide, Burton begins interjecting jarring rhythmic accents to make sure the song doesn’t become too normal — and techno-rap-house-whatever perfection is achieved.

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