The Gospel According to Gnarls

Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green preaches to the redemptive power of music and his transcendent St. Elsewhere.

"This probably my most honest work," he continues. "Prior to this record, I've heard comments that I am almost too good to be true. I'm always optimistic; I hardly ever have anything negative to say. I've always tried to be encouraging, and I'm very appreciative and grateful. Music spared me. But spared me from what? That's where Gnarls Barkley comes in. No, I'm not too good to be true. I'm very human. This record opened me up and allowed me to continue to do what I want to do, which is to speak on behalf of people, but not from an elevated platform, but to speak for the people, by the people, right there within the people. You know what I mean?"

The greatest strength of St. Elsewhere lies in its inversion of one of hip-hop's greatest strengths: The album barely recognizes the world of popular culture and draws little political or aesthetic power from it. Instead, Gnarls Barkley's songs tunnel inside private experience via a scrambled dystopia of funk and brittle rock. There's a glimmer of spiritual salvation at the end of the journey, but only after facing your own truths first — even if that means confessing, as Cee-Lo does on "Just a Thought," that he'd just as soon check out once and for all.

"'Just a Thought' is exactly what it is," he says. "You cannot be held in contempt for something that crosses your mind. I'm alive and well, and here to testify that I myself have been that person, have been up against that wall. But obviously I'm here. I have endured and overcome.

Gnarls Barkley: Who are those masked men?
Matthew Donaldson
Gnarls Barkley: Who are those masked men?

"I don't want people to misconstrue it as present-day for me. The album is very introspective; I've experienced it here and there. There's a lifetime of experience there. But we're still trying to entertain you. I was surprised that my most personal writing was as entertaining as it was.

"So the record is triumphant," he concludes. "There's a silver lining to all of it. Even the last line of that song is 'I'm fine.'"

7:30 p.m. Monday, January 15. Scottrade Center, South 14th Street and Clark Avenue. $56.50. 314-622-5400.

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