Gnarls Barkley

The Odd Couple (Atlantic)

Forget the alleged Felix-and-Oscar contrast between singer Cee-Lo Green and super-producer Danger Mouse. The title of Gnarls Barkley's sophomore album is really a reminder — backed up by the contents — that both men are seriously left-of-center, especially considering they scored one of 2006's surprise smashes with "Crazy." Green's contrary nature dates back to his solo career at the top of the decade, but his shattering soul screech has never fixated as long on life's shadier side as it does on The Odd Couple. The one-two punch of "Run" — a nightmarish stumble through the swamps — and the deceptively sedate "Would Be Killer" will freak you out. Yet Danger Mouse brings just as much spooky ambience to the record. Building the album on equal parts attitude and classic soul samples, the producer conspicuously avoids the warmth and catharsis that R&B typically offers listeners. Even the funky closer "A Little Better," which proposes an uplifting ending, has a curiously noncommittal chorus that makes Green's earlier admission of "It's probably plain to see that I got a whole lotta pain in me" seem the disc's real point. Its most direct musical antecedent might be Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On and its ghost-in-the-machine aesthetic. But instead of documenting a democracy (and a career) on the brink, the haunted, hunted Odd Couple is far more personal and accessible. It's a loner's anguish writ large — or at least strange. Casual Gnarls fans might bail, but plenty of lonely people would love an odd couple of friends like these.