Music

Morcheeba: Parts of the Process

John Davidson

Morcheeba

Parts of the Process

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2003-07-01
UK Release Date: 2003-06-30
Amazon
iTunes

If trip-hop is a sonic school of thought, then Morcheeba are not of it. Personally, I take issue with such need to compartmentalise anyway. One of the many problems with a sound-bite media culture and our need to pigeon-hole is that the moment an artist dares to explore new terrain they are often treated like they flew the coop entirely; they fall off the radar because we don't have the attention span to explore with them, or else we're unable to focus long enough to adjust our perception of who they are.

The "labels" we choose are another story. Within certain limits, the term "trip-hop" may have offered an accurate description of a sound influenced in equal parts by hip-hop and rave culture, but who now can use the term without a self-conscious smirk? "Trip-hop" could just as usefully describe a musical interlude on Sesame Street as a genre infected by heavy beats and samples. I'm not sure how the music was supposed to be served by such a categorisation, but I wonder also just how many bands fell into obsolescence at the moment the label did?

In the mid-nineties, down-tempo deities Portishead launched a flotilla of moody electronic acts fronted by wispy female vocalists. Their debut album may be a masterwork, but unfortunately its impact has diminished over the ensuing decade through a failure to follow up and develop. It ought to be universally recognised as one of the key works of the past 25 years, yet it has failed to resonate within the culture in the way that it should.

Morcheeba emerged in the shadow of that album, and were initially viewed by some as Portishead-without-the-angst. What they most obviously shared with Portishead was an affinity for languid beats and an enthusiasm for film soundtracks, yet they achieved a markedly greater longevity, blossoming into a band of economic versatility. Their recently released hits package, Parts of the Process, displays a surprising range of mood and emotion, along with considerable pop music sophistication.

Morcheeba are a band who, for the most part, you take for style over any particulars of substance. Given their formative influence by music for film, this shouldn't necessarily be perceived as a knock. Film soundtracks in some part represent story by motif, or essence by atmosphere. Morcheeba's earlier work displays a significant debt to the slide guitar sound of Ry Cooder, most particularly during his Paris, Texassoundtrack period. Yet for a London-based band (essentially, Paul Godfrey, beats and scratches; Ross Godfrey, guitars and keyboards; Skye Edwards, vocals) to co-opt and explore regional American music so early took a certain courage and curiosity. Indeed, 1998's Big Calm was so successful because it dared to depart in fairly radical, unpredictable ways from its predecessor, 1996's Who Can You Trust. It gave the band a definable integrity, showing immediately that they weren't about to be shaped or defined by a single, trendy pop movement, even one that supposedly spawned them.

Wisely, the Parts of the Process compilation is not chronologically track-listed. It is a well-balanced collection, one that makes for a cohesive listening experience. It also highlights the band's versatility in ways that may have been throttled had the collection been organised differently. Skye's vocals, which from the very beginning appeared to hover on the brink of excessive sweetness, have, after all, managed to remain on the judicious side of saccharine satiation. She provides a tranquil beauty on Undress Me Now and Over and Over, and is balanced by the flounce-filled frolic of Be Yourself and Rome Wasn't Built in a Day. There is a subdued moodiness to the title track and to Never An Easy Way , and these represent elements that Morcheeba came equipped with; they required little honing.

2003 marks the eight-year anniversary of Morcheeba coming together, and the prime creative life-span of most bands seems to top out at around that point (as a generality, this seems to hold faithfully true, even for artists as significant and diverse as the Beatles, the Stones, and Prince). Morcheeba may or may not add another worthwhile note, yet they have accomplished more than simply supplying the soundtrack to endless summer cocktail parties. This is a collection that will undoubtedly transpire to do just that, but it also offers worthwhile lessons on artistic integrity, lessons that plenty of "weightier" artists out there might do well to observe.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image