Morcheeba – Dive Deep
Ultra Records (2/19/08; iTunes release 2/4/08)
Pop / Rock / Downtempo
When the trip-hop movement was in full effect in the mid-’90s, there were really only a handful of artists that were able to gain recognition in what seemed to be a rather exclusive fold. While artists like Massive Attack (Tricky), Portishead and Moloko were the vanguards (interestingly, most of which detested the label of “trip-hop”), Morcheeba was another one of the well-known associates of the sound. While they enjoyed early success with their first two albums, Who Can You Trust? and Big Calm, their creative direction took a bit of a poppy turn with 2000’s Fragments of Freedom, which, while it roped the band their biggest hit in “Rome Wasn’t Bult in a Day”, it also boiled the blood of fans who weren’t expecting said turn. Being music fans, they did not take the change in that album (or the subsequent Charango) very well. Morcheeba was being accused of selling out, and even they themselves were not on very good terms anymore while on tour for the 2002 album. Brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey would ask longtime singer Skye Edwards to leave shortly thereafter due to the always popular “creative differences.”
“It was great to have sold millions of records and toured the world, but we were nervously exhausted, and our working relationships deteriorated very quickly,” producer Paul Godfrey said in a recent interview. “After our fourth album, Charango, we weren’t even on speaking terms and the tension on tour was making us all sick so Ross and I decided to part with Skye.”
As for the fans that had rolled with the changes in the group’s sound, they felt betrayed by this development, as the Godfreys’ 2005 follow-up album, The Antidote, featured replacement singer Daisy Martey, who was immediately panned by fans and critics who felt that the group had lost any semblance of identity with the departure of Edwards. Martey (and the bits of psychedelic influence that were also introduced and also panned on the album) would be done after one album, as they instead decided to try something completely new for their next album.
Still perhaps a bit reluctant to try and introduce yet another lead singer after the whole Daisy Martey mess, the Godfreys went with a different game plan for Dive Deep, opting for a handful of guest singers to perform over beats. Norwegian singer/songwriter Thomas Dybdahl sings on three tracks, while British singer/songwriter Judie Tzuke and French singer Manda (who got in touch with the brothers through MySpace) each appear on two. Def Jux rapper Cool Calm Pete and singer Bradley Burgess show up on one track a piece, making Dive Deep a diverse melange of talent.
The album’s first single, “Enjoy the Ride”, which Tzuke, is a slow, contemporary rock track that is essentially devoid of any sort of electronic music elements, though it still manages to be relatively lush and atmospheric. I don’t see this taking off very well in the U.S., amid a wading pool of crap like The Fray, Nickelback and Matchbox Twenty, though it should be, at the very least, mildly successful in the U.K. We get more singer/songwriter action with Dybdahl’s baritone croon (think Sondre Lerche combined with Nick Cave) on “Riverbed”, as there’s a very slight remnant of downtempo trip-hop lingering in there. Try as you may, Morcheeba, you cannot escape your past.
“Run Honey Run”, featuring Burgess (who also plays the bass on some tracks and more than likely digs later Beatles material), is a lush acoustic soundscape with an errant scratch here and there, and would be a viable follow-up single. Tzuke shows up again on the wonderfully jazzy “Blue Chair”, which plays like a vintage Sade track, while Dybdahl really complements the sexy “Washed Away”. The latter, ladies and germs, is, so far, YOUR Best Makeout Song of February 2008, and would fit in really well in some dramatic scene in a television series. I called it. You heard it here first, folks.
Manda has a good voice, too, but it’s nowhere near as apropos here as Tzuke and Dybdahl. It’s a good indie-rock, sweater-and-scarf band voice, with it’s high, quirky pitch. The stripped down, acoustic “Au De La” is sung completely in her native French, which is a nice touch, but at just over two minutes, it’s over just when it starts growing on you. And as for “One Love Karma”, featuring the syrupy smooth (and just as slow)-rhyming Cool Calm Pete, the production here is about as vintage Morcheeba as you’ll get (along with the lone instrumental track, “Thumbnails”), perhaps influenced by the hip-hop element that Pete brings to the table.
Despite the fact that the Godfreys have brought together several different artists from different backgrounds, the album does have a sense of unity to it. And while they’ve decided to break away from their groovy, trip-hop past, the music in these songs is very similar in that it’s dark, moody and at many times melancholy. While I admit that Manda seemed a bit out of place (Cool Calm Pete did not) compared to the others, her tracks were still held together very well by some seamless production. Old-school fans of Morcheeba should look elsewhere if they’re expecting Who Can You Trust?-era material, but detractors of the poppy direction that spawned “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” will be happy to see that the brothers have gone back to smoking a whole lot of pot. But really, would we have it any other way?