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The Gospel According to Gnarls

Cee-Lo breaks down the genius behind St. Elsewhere

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.

"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.'"

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