All history lessons should be such fun

Gnarls Barkley

"St. Elsewhere" (Downtown Records/Atlantic)

****

Every song on this exhilarating debut collaboration between singer-rapper Cee-Lo Green and DJ-producer Danger Mouse (the man responsible for making Jay-Z meet the Beatles on "The Grey Album") is almost as good as its first hit, "Crazy." That's saying a lot.

"Crazy" is a soaring piece of emotional pop that ingeniously blurs the lines between gospel, soul and hip-hop, is the year's best single so far. For the rest of "St. Elsewhere," Gnarls applies a visionary, no-limits formula to over a century's worth of black musical styles.

"Go-Go Gadget Gospel" is a joyous church service on high-speed blast, "Transformer" goes for funk futurism and "Smiling Faces" and "Storm Coming" reinvent the Staple Singers for the hip-hop age.

Danger Mouse's genre-hopping production is shimmering and psychedelic (lush strings and chirping horns abound), but it's Green who steals the show as a vocal chameleon nimble enough to be soul crooner, rhyme spitter, holy roller and Gordon Gano fan (on a staid cover of the Violent Femmes' "Gone Daddy Gone") all at once.

"I wouldn't call it schizophrenia," he winks on "Who Cares?" "But I'll be at least two people today."

He's being humble. Throughout "St. Elsewhere," he's also depressed, fearful and a believer in both necromancy and feng shui. Multiple personalities never sounded better.

Albums are rated on a scale of four stars (excellent) to one star (poor). Albums reviewed are in stores except as indicated.

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