We’re already seven years on from the release of Morcheeba’s lauded second record Big Calm, but it’s still the reference point people remember when this family business is mentioned. Ross and Paul Godfrey, together with the sassily welcoming vocals of Skye Edwards, sold millions of records and claimed to be the creators of “downtempo”. Such claims aside, the eclectic music and Skye’s distinct voice carved a big fanbase for the band.
Fast-forward to 2005 and two-thirds of Morcheeba are back with The Antidote. Skye has flown the coup to concentrate on a solo career, and has been replaced by sometime Noonday Underground singer Daisy Martey, a young lady whose powerful voice earned her Grace Slick comparisons from Ross. “We were won over by her dynamic range,” he says.
And it’s true – Daisy certainly has a range all of her own, and a very different voice to her predecessor. Her sound seems to have influenced this latest record – not only does her voice feel considerably rawer, but the Godfreys’ music has changed to suit it.
Away are the samples and electronics of Big Calm in favour of live drums, mandolins, tin whistles and some of the most eclectic arrangements you’ll hear all year. Amongst the influences present, say the band, are everyone from Aphex Twin through My Bloody Valentine by way of Jimi Hendrix to Fairport Convention. On a Morcheeba record? Different, that’s what it is. You can almost hear them insisting that yes, they have moved on.
Lead single Wonders Never Cease fails to prepare one for the variety of The Antidote’s scope. It’s about as close to the band’s earlier output as we get, with Daisy’s immense lungs reined in just enough to avoid instantly frightening fans. Recognisably Morcheeba keyboard and guitar sounds flesh out the sonicscape without more than hinting at a move away from their old and highly successful downtempo sound.
And then we’re led back to medieval England with Ten Men’s recorder-like pootles. By the end of the song, something like normal service has been resumed, but we’ve been left a taster of what can happen when a band can afford to experiment, relatively free from the commercial pressures of their old major label deal.
There are other moments like this that suggest the brothers Godfrey heard a sound, clicked “eureka!” and added it into the mix on a whim. Expansive brass sounds dominate the end of several tracks, to James Bond theme effect on Everybody Loves A Loser. Elsewhere, slide guitar, mandolin and brass vie for attention in the lovely Lighten Up – an obvious second single.
Living Hell is the best exponent of the record’s juxtaposition between laid-back times of yore (the verses) and the strident sound of now (choruses) and is one of the album’s most powerful tracks. It may not be to the taste of everyone after a post-club chill, but it’s certainly worth a listen.
God Bless and Goodbye, the closing track, mixes the old and new best with a grateful nod in the direction of Scott Walker‘s guitars and drums – only Daisy’s vocals prevent it from passing as one of the great man’s own compositions.
The Antidote tries to do that rare thing – hold on to the sweet spot of old while innovating towards the new. But with the change of singer, Morcheeba’s sound at times feels a little strained as they play to two masters.
Unfortunately for them, that’s what comes of making a record as well received as Big Calm – one spends the rest of one’s days trying to better it. Despite offering much of interest, The Antidote isn’t in the same league as Big Calm, but it’s no bad album for all that.