Two artists that have put together sufficiently unusual releases during their careers, Cee Lo and Danger Mouse have delivered an uneven collaboration that, when the dust from the hype collapse clears, may be good enough to ever-so-slightly overcome its chief failings. Even its biggest proponents will be forced to admit that St. Elsewhere is terribly uneven and overly stylized. And, no, nothing here is as good as “Crazy,” that leaked single that will turn out to be easily one of the best of the year. But it’s also a musically interesting album, one that displays many of the strengths of its two creators, even if it is all too often overcome by their weaknesses.
Fortunately, “Crazy” isn’t the only highlight, even if it is the best. Closer “The Last Time” is a great dance track, and the title track is probably Danger Mouse’s best work on the record, with a great ebb-and-flow production technique. Often throughout the record, Danger Mouse allows Cee Lo to carry the melody, and it’s a smart move, one that gives him the chance to showcase his production while still emphasizing what is perhaps Cee Lo’s greatest skill: his ability to use his fantastic voice to carry a melody, whether he is rapping or singing.
Unfortunately, it’s this same move that displays the record’s two biggest weaknesses: Danger Mouse’s disappointing production, and his inability to reign in the odder aspects of Cee Lo’s taste. The drum patterns are tired and often sound like common retreads (with a few exceptions, notably “Just a Thought”), and much of the production doesn’t have a strong enough pull to make any real impact. He’s also indulged in Cee Lo’s more theatrical aspects (although based on the promotional pictures released, which are all parodies of famous films, this was intentional). “The Boogie Monster,” “Feng Shui,” and “Necromancer” are all way too over-the-top to be anything other than novelty, and both “Go Go Gadget Gospel” and “Transformer” only get more annoying after multiple listens.
Danger Mouse has done some great records and even better singles. All of them seem to grow on listeners over time, but this record is the exact opposite: the more you listen to the weaker songs, the more annoying they get. I actually enjoyed the Violent Femmes cover “Gone Daddy Gone” the first few times I heard it; no longer, however. Cee Lo has always been better with great producers: his work with Timbaland and DJ Premier on his last solo record were highlights of an overlooked gem. But when he is allowed to run wild, like on his first record, his work can be erratic and unfocused. This is the result here, and it makes for a disappointing missed opportunity.
Downtown Records Web site