Big Calm (Sire ’98) Rating: A-
Often compared to Portishead, Morcheeba is actually a far sunnier if less singular musical proposition. Also, Morcheeba is far less reliant on noir-ish effects, relying instead on a spacey, breezy musical base, though they too use hip-hop elements and digital blips along with a scratchy beat (i.e. this can also be classified as “trip hop”). The fact that a sexy British female singer also leads Morcheeba further brought about the comparison, but Skye Edwards is much earthier than the ever-edgy Beth Gibbons, and Morcheeba’s music is based more on relaxed, catchy melodies than on troubling atmospherics. The band also works a more varied terrain, with nice experimental touches such as a pedal steel guitar/violin combination on the gently loping “Part Of The Process" (on which her pronunciations are just adorable) an enticing reggae groove on “Friction,” and even some intense hip-hop on the ironically titled title track. Multi-tracked vocals, strings, horns, vibraphone, keyboards, electronic effects, and some fluid guitar playing are all seamlessly integrated by studio hounds Paul and Chris Godfrey into an eclectic mix that works well as background music but which can also appeal to the more actively involved listener. Other highlights include "Shoulder Holster," "Blindfold," and the string-laden ballad "Fear & Love," all of which have catchy melodies and sing songy chants, while the seductive, swaying melodies of album opener “The Sea” (probably my favorite song here) and “Let Me See” are perfect for headphone listening and should in particular appeal to the stoner set. However, the laid-back charms of the band's second album (after Who Can You Trust? which I haven’t heard yet) can be easily appreciated by anyone.
Fragments of Freedom (Sire Records ’00) Rating: B
I hate to say it, but I miss the band’s stoner friendly vibe here, because the band's third full-length album is a decidedly more mainstream and less provocative collection than Big Calm. Predictably, the highlight of the album is Skye Edwards’ airy vocals, while the rest of the band again provides the programmed dance beats and effects in addition to a wide array of eclectic instrumentation. However, what mysteriously bubbled beneath the surface used to be a big part of the band’s elusive allure, and everything here is predictably up front and center. While the band still has a pleasantly attractive sound, and Edwards would probably sound good singing just about anything, it’s hard to believe that the band put too much time into repetitive catchphrases such as “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day,” “Love Is Rare,” “Be Yourself,” or “Good Girl Down.” There are some good songs, such as the catchy leadoff track “World Looking In,” the seductive “Let It Go” (which recalls Everything But The Girl), and the percolating disco beat of “Shallow End.” “A Well Deserved Break” and “Coming Down Gently” are also playfully creative instrumentals that showcase the band’s skillful instrumental ingenuity, while the trip-hoppy head music of the title track most recalls the band’s more experimental previous work. However, most of the songs here tend to anonymously blend into each other, though only the awful Biz Markie rap “In The Hands of The Gods” is a blatant misfire. Yet for all its faults Fragments of Freedom is still easy to like overall, though it’s disappointing that the band has shown no real advancement from previous releases, and that Morcheeba has largely forsaken any real sense of adventure in favor of the easier (and likely more lucrative) way out.