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Morcheeba's members are trip-hopping together again 

Wednesday, Jul 28 2010
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Back in trip-hop's '90s heyday, while Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky were soundtracking the apocalypse, British trio Morcheeba emerged with a hazier, more psychedelic version of downtempo anxiety, sonically suggesting that you smoke a spliff and chill out as the end of the world — or at least the end of your happiness — approached. The group's first two albums — 1996's Who Can You Trust? and 1998's Big Calm — were classics, sounding at once retro and futuristic. Sultry singer Skye Edwards purred alluringly about trigger hippies and scavenging seagulls. Ross Godfrey coaxed sepia-toned Delta blues and colorful '70s funk from his guitar. And his older brother, Paul Godfrey, concocted murky bong-hit beats and noirish atmospherics, incorporating dub/reggae, raga, samba, lounge, and classic English folk to give Morcheeba a more soulful vibe than most of its peers, even when the lyrical focus was decidedly downcast.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, the trio abandoned its darker impulses and went pop, issuing a couple of shiny, upbeat albums (2000's Fragments of Freedom and 2002's Charango). Some die-hard fans rejected the shift in mood, and in 2003, amid that turbulence, the Godfrey brothers abruptly fired Edwards from the band. For the next six years, Morcheeba continued with a string of vocalists, but their post-Edwards recordings rarely recaptured the original lineup's magic. Edwards, meanwhile, pursued a solo career. Both camps seemed content to never work with one another again.

But last fall, Edwards randomly encountered Ross Godfrey on a London street. Within a week, she learned from her manager that the brothers wanted her to sing on the next Morcheeba album.

"I was completely gobsmacked," Edwards says over the phone from Paris, a stop on the now-reunited Morcheeba's world tour. "My immediate answer was no, because I didn't think they liked me very much. I mean, I was utterly heartbroken when they let me go. The whole thing was very odd."

"The three of us ended up getting together, and we had some laughs, and we also talked about the old issues," guitarist Ross explains in a separate conversation. He half-jokingly compared their reunion to a Morcheeba version of Metallica's Some Kind of Monster documentary. "I wasn't really concerned that we would have fights and stuff, more that there'd just be this brooding resentment. But it was good."

So why did they split in the first place? In interviews after the breakup, the brothers insisted that Edwards wanted to pursue a solo career, or that the pair wanted to change the group's musical direction, or, as Ross told Time Out New York in 2005, that Edwards' voice was too "fragile." Edwards' own solo press materials mentioned being "left out" of Morcheeba. When pressed for details, she is reluctant to spill. "We don't go into the deep, deep reasons why — I think it's best to keep that between the three of us. Believe me, there was a lot of bad blood there, a lot of hurt feelings. But I have to let go of stuff from the past and the reasons why we split up, even though that has been a little difficult."

"We spent almost 10 years on the road and made four albums with Skye, and by then we'd driven each other crazy," Ross says separately, offering his own explanation. "We didn't communicate, we weren't really aware how each other felt. And if you add a lot of drugs and alcohol to that, you just lose your mind and cause a lot of damage."

The damage done seems forgiven now, as the trio's old chemistry reappears on their new LP, Blood Like Lemonade. The record sounds even better than many longtime fans could have hoped for. The palpable ache in Edwards' voice proves especially compelling, and the indelible grooves, beats, and exotic flavorings of the first two albums return in mutated form, making the new album feel more like a step forward than a look backward.

"I think this is the record people wanted us to make after Big Calm," Ross admits. "At the time we were being kind of insolent. We were a bit sick of making what we considered 'miserable' music. We wanted to do something happy but nobody else really wanted us to do happy music. They liked it when we were miserable."

So will Morcheeba's be a lasting or fleeting reunion? Edwards says that's still up in the air. "We can all survive outside of Morcheeba, so it's not something we need to do, it's something we want to do at the moment. That feels a lot healthier." Concurs Ross, "Right now it's such a relief that we've managed to get a record out and play some shows, we don't wanna push it. But I do hope that the three of us are gonna be making Morcheeba records every couple of years for the rest of our lives."

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Michael Alan Goldberg

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