Gnarls Barkley — “Crazy”

Released: 3.23.06

Peak: #2

There’s no more frustrating experience as a critic than to encounter a hugely popular work that you recognize as “good” but which denies you emotional access. There’s plenty of beloved pop that I despise but the appeal of which I recognize. There’s plenty of pop (beloved or otherwise) that I adore, even if I can’t always express why it floors me. And then there’s “Crazy,” a weird, compelling trifle, instantly accepted as a classic in disparate quarters, that’s served as an aesthetic brick wall for me to pound my skull against for half a decade now.

Danger Mouse is the problem. As I complained earlier in this series (when I promised I wouldn’t include “Crazy”–oh well), his track “sits there in all its inert glory, awaiting a pat on the head for being so well-crafted.” The electronically abbreviated intro beats announce that this will be an exercise in clinical precision, a threat made good by the snap of that fine-edged bass into the drum patterns, the carefully layered weightlessness of the spaghetti western samples, even the controlled entropy of the track’s closing sputter.

That’s not even to get into its limitations on Cee-Lo. The off-the-dome feel of his lyrics generates an air of unpremeditated honesty, as though we’re hearing unfiltered series of recollections. And he’s a soulful enough singer, though you can cease already with the spurious Al Green comparisons (the only heresy whose profession I consider damnable). Somehow, I sense, the strength of “Crazy” for some must rest in how the neatly trimmed track constrains the life pulsing with in it, in the masterful display of sonic quirk in the service of limiting a song’s exuberance.  And yet …

And yet it’s a pretty damn good song, after all, and I refuse to play heroic contrarian just ’cause the best-of-they year/ best-of-the-decade chorus overestimate the depths of its soul or its historic importance. Sure I could be dismissive and complain that lots of fogeys liked “Crazy” ’cause it was retro. But that’s not why they loved it. And just ’cause I can’t tell you why they loved it doesn’t mean I can’t like it, at least a little.

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Comments

  • Chris Molanphy  On October 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Okay, I promise to be (even) nicer to you from here on out. 🙂

    That said, you know, you didn’t *have to* cave.

  • usefulnoise  On October 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Oh I really wanted to hold my ground, trust me! But I could only find 24 songs from ’06 I thought were better, and I’m trying to keep myself honest here!

Trackbacks

  • […] Released: 3.23.06 Peak: #2 There's no more frustrating experience as a critic than to encounter a hugely popular work that you recognize as "good" but which denies you emotional access. There's plenty of beloved pop that I despise but the appeal of which I recognize. There's plenty of pop (beloved or otherwise) that I adore, even if I can't always express why it floors me. And then there's "Cra … Read More […]

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