[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]
COMMERCIAL MILESTONES AND outstanding pop tend not to coincide in the music business. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, the first single to reach number one in the UK via downloads alone, is an exception. The finest electro-soul number to come seemingly out of nowhere since Adamski and Seal's Killer, it certainly whets the appetite for the album, St Elsewhere (Downtown/Warner Bros ****).
British producer Danger Mouse's previous collaborators have included Gorillaz, MF DOOM and the unwitting and unwilling Beatles, whose White Album he mixed with Jay Z's The Black Album to create his celebrated, suppressed Grey Album. Here, he's teamed up with Goodie Mob's Cee-Lo, owner of a shivering, insinuating soul voice, to create the most consistently enjoyable record of his career. Other DM albums may have displayed more dash and daring; St Elsewhere has atmosphere, depth and remarkable songs. It calls to mind a bolder Basement Jaxx, and the inner-space exploration of underappreciated Nineties Brit-hoppers Earthling.
Mark Morrison has given us plenty of entertainment over the years, but aside from a couple of corking singles ten years ago, precious little of it has come from his music. Perhaps taking too literally his role as Leicester's answer to Bobby Brown, he has stumbled from one tragicomic legal fiasco to another. His long-delayed comeback is finally here: was Innocent Man (Mona *) worth the wait? It's hard to imagine an album this ordinary meaning a great deal to anyone but Morrison himself. Innocent Man is R&B by rote, with a couple of decent tracks, many more dull ones, and the unsurprising abundance of self-justification and special pleading promised by its title.
That said, put it alongside Jamie Foxx's Unpredictable (j/Sony BMG no stars) and it starts to sound positively essential (although Morrison's people had better not quote that out of context.) Even Foxx's title offers up more hostages to fortune than Morrison's, given that everything about the album, from its contents and guest stars to its very existence, is wearingly inevitable. Playing Ray Charles is one thing; making your own record, especially when it consists of lubricious R&B crooning so soporific as to merit prescription-only status, is quite another. This opportunistic vanity project has to be one of the least necessary releases of recent memory, and that's saying something.
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