Kofi's hat

Kofi's hat

MP3s, music news and reviews, and a sprinkling of pop culture. Named by Aqualung's Matt Hales, after his son.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Ink in my blood, a song in my heart. Metaphor is my middle name.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Morcheeba: The Antidote

This week Morcheeba released The Antidote, its first album without singer Skye Edwards, whose sultry voice was an important part of Morcheeba's sound. Or at least I think it was. In Morcheeba's band bio (click ("band" to read it), Paul Godfrey says Morcheeba "was always mine and [his brother] Ross' baby, though it's more like a moody teenager these days! So Skye leaving wasn't as big a deal for us as it may seem to other people, but it meant we had to find the right voice to collaborate with again." Aside from not finding that a particularly gracious statement toward Edwards or the "voice" they hired for The Antidote, Daisy Martey, I feel they either underestimated Edwards' value to Morcheeba's sound or don't mind leaving that impression. A bit tacky. But the brothers don't have to worry about offending Martey at this point, as she's no longer with the group. A new singer will tour with the brothers starting in November.

Not only has the group's lineup changed, so has their musical direction, and it's a drastic shift. Paul Godfrey attributes the change to their new (ex) singer as well as the influence of the brothers' musical tastes. He says they "wanted to up the ante a bit, tempo wise and dynamically. We wanted to have a mix of that late 60s psychedelic sound, but with a modern consciousness."

"Wonders Never Cease" was the first single, which the band describes it as "brilliant", whereas they feel second single "Lighten Up" is "fantastic". (well, "fantasic", but they likely meant "fantastic"). We can each use our feelings about the two songs to settle for ourselves, and possibly once and for all the question, "which is better, brilliant or fantastic?" For myself, the shocking realization that neither brilliant nor fantastic is all that great nearly sent me straight into bed with the covers pulled over my head. Have words no meaning at all? What are words for when no one listens anymore?

I thought my problem with the new Morcheeba started with their words, and with listening to them. When they're playing wannabe-60s/wannabe-Cornershop-type music, it puts more of a spotlight on the lyrics.

Lighten up
It's gonna brighten up
I want to play
You're in the way of our sunshine

- Lighten Up

I find that somewhat insipid.

In the video for "Lighten Up", Paul and Ross Godfrey dance and bop about as though they watched the Brady Bunch episode wherein the kids sang "It's a Sunshine Day" a few too many times and decided it was freakin' awesome, inspirational, even! That would explain the lyrics too. I wouldn't rule out Up With People as an influence either. Martey sways around too, but I found the brothers' performance more compelling in an "I feel embarrassed for them" sort of way. The lyrics had been bad, the video was sad.

It isn't only the lyrics of that one song I don't like... one more example from The Antidote:

Hold up, it's daylight robbery
Hold up, you're bleeding us dry
Hold up, you're making a mockery
Hold up, disorganised crime

- Daylight Robbery

Doesn't work for me. The part of the song itself I like best is the very end; I like the surprising bursts of synth there. There's a small amount of that at the start as well. I would have liked much more along those lines. Too much of what's in between those unique, unexpected moments resembles watered-down Burt Bacharach made for a rip-off of an Austin Powers movie. It isn't the worst song ever, but it sounds so much like an attempt to duplicate someone else's work, and falls so short of the mark. Maybe they should do an album of covers next. They could infuse them with as much "modern consciousness" as they like, but they'd have solid material to work with from the get-go. If they chose wisely, they'd have much better lyrics, for one thing.

Were Morcheeba's lyrics always this much of a weak spot? I do think their kicky new musical style makes their lyrics stand out more.

But let's see...

Love love love, i'm a trigger hippie, yeah
Love love love, we're trigger hippies, yeah.

Love love love, i'm a trigger hippie, yeah
Love love love, we're trigger hippies, yeah.

- Trigger Hippie

Not exactly brilliant, but the lyrics work for the song (not saying this writing is typical of all "old" Morcheeba lyrics. Some are quite a bit better than others, but I don't think their lyrics were their strongest quality pre-The Antidote). On "Trigger Hippie", the slinky vocals in particular are very good, and in general I think the lyrics worked fine for the song.

Despite the brothers' minimizing of Edwards' importance to their work, Ross Godfrey does feel good about the body of work they created with her, declaring that, "We invented chillout with songs." Morcheeba has made some swell songs, but Massive Attack, for one, made chillout songs first (they released their first single, "Daydreaming", in 1990). Morcheeba formed in 1995 and released their first EP, Trigger Hippie, in 1996. And if Portishead is the boasting type, they're in line for bragging rights before Morcheeba, having formed in 1991 and released their first album out in 1994.

Reluctantly returning to the new Morcheeba album... "People Carrier" has the bones of a decent song somewhere in there, but it's as though it's been dressed up in gaudy, oversized, and probably flammable clothing that makes it hard to appreciate anything good about the song. Oversung to death, how often to use the "whip" sound effect apparently determined by one of the morning-drive deejays prone to overuse of wacky sound effects. Sound effects used judiciously, good. Used constantly, just annoying. "Wonders Never Cease" is one of the better songs, yet I still find it cloying and irritating. Martey has a strong voice but I feel like she oversings. Maybe this is a matter of taste. Almost everything is powersung, and it's too much for my tastes. On "Ten Men" she starts off softly, but soon reverts to form and starts practically yelling. I just don't find it pleasant to listen to, and the cacophony of instruments don't help much. I like that Morcheeba has used a lot of different instruments on this album -- it does sound as though they attended a garage sale at Cornershop's flat and bought every instrument they had and possibly some kitchen utensils they mistook for instruments. It's hard to fairly critique how they used everything when I didn't like the vocals or the lyrics of so many songs.

I've had this review in Draftsville for days and kept returning to it, and listening to the songs again, wondering if they would grow on me, and whether I was being too harsh... well, no and maybe it's a bit harsh. I think the lyrics are a weak spot but that wouldn't bother me as much if I enjoyed enough other things about the album. Not liking the singer's voice or the music is a matter of opinion; your mileage may vary.

mp3:Morcheeba - Wonders Never Cease (from The Antidote)

mp3:Morcheeba - Daylight Robbery (from The Antidote)

Some "Older" Morcheeba I Like:

mp3:Morcheeba - Trigger Hippie (from Who Can You Trust?)

mp3:Morcheeba - Part of the Process (from Big Calm and Parts of the Process)

mp3:Morcheeba - Let Me See (from Big Calm and Parts of the Process)

mp3:Morcheeba - Tape Loop (from Parts of the Process and Who Can You Trust)


Blogger Michael said...

I tried to post a comment earlier but blogger was down. I posted a link to your review over at my blog with some of my own comments. I'd agree that whether one's a fan of Daisy Martey's voice is a matter of taste. I always thought of Skye as a competent vocalist, but actually never thought she was a 'great' singer. I was quite impressed with Daisy's vocals on first listen. Too bad she isn't with the band anymore.

9:32 PM  
Blogger trill42 said...

Yeah, Blogger's been down a few times lately, server updates and such. [hypnotized voice] All for our benefit. I am grateful for the outages, for each one is a sign that service is improving. [/hypnotized voice]

Thanks for the link, and for posting your thoughts as well... I think we're sort of on the same page... We both think Skye and Daisy are competent singers, we just prefer a different one... (because you don't think Skye is great and you think Daisy's awesome, and I'm like, "Oh no, you didn't!" I mean, whereas I see things differently. ;) )

2:40 AM  

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