Last New Year’s Eve was quite a low-key affair for Cee-Lo Green. With his post-Goodie Mob solo career stalling, the singer born Thomas Calloway quietly rang in 2006 in his Atlanta church singing hymns with his non-denominational congregation. This year will be dramatically different.
“I’m gonna handle my business, then definitely have some fun,” he reports. “But then I’m gonna find a place of refuge and give thanks, as well, and put my resolutions in order and prepare myself to keep earning and deserving the good fortune that’s coming my way.”
Wise decision. Because, creatively speaking, you can’t get more fortunate than Green did these past 12 months, with “St. Elsewhere,” his trip-hoppy debut with producer/multi-instrumentalist chum Danger Mouse (nee Brian Burton). The album’s soulful single “Crazy” was seemingly everywhere in ’06, topping eight different radio formats and hitting No. 1 on the UK charts as a download two weeks prior to its official release last April.
The feat was compounded by the duo’s affinity for kooky stage and photo-shoot costumes; so far they’ve sported outfits from fave flicks such as “Star Wars,” “Donnie Darko,” “Austin Powers,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Wizard Of Oz” (with skinny Danger Mouse as the Tin Man and husky Cee-Lo sweating inside a Cowardly Lion suit).
The team originally met back in ’98. But only recently — after Danger Mouse finished work on Damon Albarn’s cartoon Gorillaz combo, as well as his own notorious “Grey Album” Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up — they convened in earnest as the nonsenically-named Gnarls Barkley, with nothing but fun on the agenda.
“St. Elsewhere” bounces bouyantly from pop to techno, R&B, old-school Motown, ’80s hair-metal, even a New Wave-ish cover of the Violent Femmes’ signature “Gone Daddy Gone.” Concerts feature equally campy sendups of everyone from Europe to Duran Duran. Other groups, like the Raconteurs, have followed suit with “Crazy,” covering the instant classic in their shows.
“And it’s just stunning, to have a song that speaks to so many people, all at the same time,” sighs Green, who’ll be playing/partying — then praying — in Los Angeles this New Year’s Eve, the night after the band’s San Francisco gig. “It’s weird, totally surreal to be in Japan, where they don’t necessarily know English, but they know our song. Or to be in Norway, in the Norwegian woods at a festival where it’s straight death metal, but people are all singing along to ‘Crazy.’ It makes my feel very purposed, makes my life feel very intentful.”
Why the wacky getups? “Danger initiated it,” Green says. “Because you can be guilty by association by what you’re wearing, right? If you’re wearing a big chain and a T-shirt, you very probably do hip-hop music. But we’re not any of these things full-time, so we didn’t wanna associate ourselves with any one group of people and segregate ourselves from all others. So a lot of this stuff starts as a joke, with us just messing around.”
So thanking his higher power for ’06 as ’07 begins, Green says, makes good karmic sense. “Because something of this magnitude? It’s divine intervention — it just couldn’t be designed or predicted. You just couldn’t see this coming, y’know?”