GNARLS BARKLEY St. Elsewhere (Warner Bros./Lex)

So, because radio and television and popular culture doesn’t impinge very much upon my hermit-like existence, I hadn’t heard Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” or had any idea about its historic import prior to buying this album. In fact, when a friend sent me the track upon which it’s substantially based (Gianfranco Reverberi’s “Nel Cimitero Di Tucson”) he seemed genuinely baffled that any supplementary explanation would be necessary. So, to summarise for the benefit of any readers as worldly as myself, “Crazy” was both the biggest selling single in the UK last year, and the first single to reach the top of the UK charts (where it stayed for nine weeks) based on download sales alone. The monster was slain by its creators, who deleted its physical manifestations less than two months after release “so that people would remember the song fondly and not get sick of it”. Gnarls Barkley themselves consist Cee-Lo, formerly of Atlanta hip hop ensemble Goodie Mob, and DJ Danger Mouse, feted for his production work on Gorillaz’ excellent “Demon Days” album and his illicit Beatles / Jay-Z mashup “The Grey Album”.

Now that we’re all up to something like speed, what about the music? Well, it’s, um, interesting. “Crazy” is genuinely great, with its sample-heavy modern Motown sound, and there’s more than a trace of a Smokey or a Marvin to Cee-Lo’s creamy, keening vocals. But for what might initially be dismissed as a pop album there’s some dark clouds gathering above “St. Elsewhere”, with its tales of mental illness, psychological horror and necrophilia – and check out that mushroom cloud of cultural detritus on the cover. The title track swaggers, but on crutches, ranging in circles but suffused by inescapable melancholia. A cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone” is appropriately punky but also pretty gloomy – listen to how the vocals subside into a resigned sigh at the close. “Just A Thought” heightens its lyrical confusion with distorted beats and car horn brass, “Necromancer” a reprehensible aural snuff movie, almost. Closer “The Last Time” is one of the album’s undoubted highlights, though, a loose-limbed, if grey-hued, hymn to the boogie.

A lot of the album seems strangely slight, as if the music’s plasticity is an attempt to subvert some fairly heavy subject matter (or, alternatively, the subject matter might be adding gravitas to the shadowy pop soundtrack). It makes for a slightly queasy and uneasy listen, arguably not quite the album you might have been led to expect.