This record is a study in the way a new vocalist can completely change the sound of a band. Your mileage may vary.
There's no sense in beating around the bush, so let's get this out of the way quickly: Morcheeba's latest album The Antidote features a vocalist who is not Skye Edwards (Shock! Horror!). That's right, she of the relaxed-yet-sultry voice whose sound had become synonymous with the name Morcheeba has departed to pursue her own solo career, and the men of Morcheeba are now forced to proceed with someone else. That someone else is Daisy Martey, someone with twice the power of Edwards, but half the subtlety -- speaking of his new bandmate, Ross Godfrey says "We were impressed with her Grace Slick psych-soul voice," and the comparison (including all of the benefits and deficiencies it implies) couldn't be more spot-on. Some will be put off by the change, others will embrace it wholeheartedly, and nothing that this or any reviewer has to say on the topic will matter.
That said, Morcheeba has obviously put a lot of effort into adjusting to the presence of Ms. Martey.
The success of The Antidote is dependent on just how well Paul and Ross Godfrey do adjust to their new vocalist from song to song. For the most part, the entire Morcheeba sound has changed. Rather than sticking with the down-tempo torch songs that dominated most of their work with Edwards, The Antidote plays off like a slightly mellower version of a '70s rock 'n' roll band. Every song features a live drum track, not to mention other real, honest to god instruments, including the leftover presence of horn sections that tended to play a large part in much of Morcheeba's earlier work. Most startling is the placement of those strong, confident vocals -- where once, it seemed that the emphasis was on the music of the Godfreys, now it is Martey herself who takes center stage with a placement in the mix befitting a superstar lead singer.
Martey, for her part, takes full advantage of such emphasis, compensating for her own lack of subtlety by utilizing the type of vocal acrobatics that Edwards typically avoided. A classically trained singer, Martey takes her vocals into the stratosphere on a fairly regular basis, usually over the course of the climactic, classic rock codas of the louder tunes. "Ten Men" is a fantastic spaghetti western workout with a vocal climb at the end that causes the listener to wonder whether Mariah Carey-esque emotasqueaking is in the near future, a prediction that fortunately never comes to fruition. "Daylight Robbery" is a little less successful with its "Drive My Car" rhythmic stutters and big honkin' horns, but Martey's belting can't be flawed. She meshes perfectly with the confident strut of the rest of the song, and lifts it above its clichéd origins.
The downside to all of this newfound strength is that it seems that the Godfrey brothers have painted themselves into a rut with this vocalist. By focusing all of their efforts into playing to her strengths, they have eschewed most of the variety of their earlier work. Sure, there's variety here, too, as things go from country to rock to vague attempts at mellow jazz, but its near-uniform dedication to midtempo '70s jams with the requisite James Bond theme vocalist gets tedious remarkably quickly. One of the worst things a band can do is change themselves for the sake of a single member, and Morcheeba lose much of their identity in the pursuit of the perfect jam that Jefferson Airplane never came up with. Songs like "Everybody Loves a Loser", "Lighten Up", and "People Carrier" just all blend together after a while, depending on their singer for power while never bothering to distinguish themselves musically.
The disappointment of the majority of the album is only magnified by songs like "Living Hell", which starts out like the rest but eventually turns into an all-out rock 'n' roll jam, "Free Bird" style, and "Antidote" is over six minutes in length and features some interesting arpeggiated chords and appealing interplay between Martey and guest vocalist Rob Mullender. Those sorts of touches could have gone a long way into making the rest of the album a touch more appealing.
As it happens, the Daisy Martey era has ended -- Morcheeba has parted ways with their vocalist, and are talking of using a mixture of vocalists, Massive Attack style, on the next album. Perhaps that's for the best. While Martey brought a different, more aggressive feel to Morcheeba's once über-mellow style, she adds little lyrically, and I can't possibly see a second album with her vocals sounding terribly different from this one. Her voice is just so distinct, perhaps too much so for the band to develop around her. "You're such a puzzle, I guess/ God bless and goodbye", Martey pleasantly sings on album closer "God Bless and Goodbye", and it's as fitting a conclusion as any to her short tenure. Solid as The Antidote is, it's hard to say she'll be missed.