Fourteen tracks, one 'Crazy', initial fears quashed. It's only natural for the sceptic to assume that the spectacularly successful lead single to be lifted from this debut album - the collaborative project of Goodie Mob's Cee Lo and DM & Jemini's in-demand Danger Mouse - would have its formula repeated across the entirety of its parent long-player. But it takes only two or three seconds of the opening_ 'Go Go Gadget Gospel'_ to realise that the pair have dared to experiment with a healthy dose of variety. The song pulses in palpitations, Cee Lo's vocal more urgent than at any moment of that history-making single; beats are spread wide and trip over each other, fast and furious. It's the circus coming to your town via a toy-store brass band and the stuffed animal aisle, childish yet bearing the hallmarks of future greatness.
With such a seemingly haphazard approach to formulating these compositions, it's inevitable that certain songs seem a little out of sorts with their surroundings; funnily, 'Crazy' is one of them. That it's one of the few credible number ones the UK has had in recent memory is a no-brainer, but its sequencing at track two deals it a poor hand; Cee Lo's incredibly soulful vocal would suit the second half of St Elsewhere so much better. 'Gone Daddy Gone' arrives soon after, coming on like Polysics penning a track for some pop-hop, blue-eyed R&B boyband or other, rapid-fire beats matched with a professional but uninspiring vocal. It's a sing-along in the making, sure to have behinds up from seats at live shows, but comprises one of this album's weaker moments.
Positives, now, for there are many: 'The Boogie Monster' is a great little baritone paean to the horrors of the night, to the things that go bump-itty-bump just out of your peripheral vision. Of course, the lyrics probably aren't there to be interpreted literally - no doubt there's some intention to suggest the presence of inner demons when under-the-bed beasties are mentioned - but falling mid-album it provides a little light relief from the often dizzying blitz-beats of other arrangements. Case in point: 'Feng Shui'. Here, Cee Lo adopts a similarly smooth tone to that of 'Crazy', but his raps are fluid, suiting Danger Mouse's glossy hip-hop soundscape wonderfully. 'Just A Thought' is Warren G through a 65daysofstatic filter: sounds awful on paper, but as Danger Mouse's build 'em up and knock 'em down beats dance on tip-toes about the listener, ears will crackle and crisp in time, their lobes quite probably blistering.
Further highlights easily come to mind after just a couple of plays - 'Transformer' is a riotous, joyous hoot of a song, recorded while Cee Lo's stuck on fast-forward like some episode of Round The Twist, while 'Online' (nice nod to that single's success, there) is a neat exercise in modern funk, with vocals full of vulnerability despite an assured front. A lot of credit must go the way of Cee Lo, whose presence is more powerful, more attention-grabbing, than his conspirator, and whose at-the-mic' performances are rarely found wanting. Yes, tiny blips appear on the quality radar from time to time, but St Elsewhere's strike rate is surprisingly high; short song lengths aid the album's appeal, too, as for every dip you're guaranteed a peak in but a few minutes' time.
Approaching St Elsewhere with an established intention to dislike it purely because of the over-exposure of one song will leave you one of two ways: either your expectations will be rightly dashed by an album that's wickedly vivid, full of soul and many a spark of invention, or you'll steadfastly refuse to let it impress you. Take the latter approach and you will be missing out on a genuinely recommended album - it's no contender for end-of-year honours, but so far as pop goes in 2006, this may well be the pinnacle.
7Mike Diver's Score