One of the most heartening things about the development of rock/pop music in the 1990s was the appearance of music that effortlessly sampled, integrated and recycled popular music recorded since the beginning of the recording process. Perhaps the most adept practitioner of this craft is Beck, but there are many others and one of my favorites is Morcheeba.
Not that I would classify Morcheeba as a truly great band – there is a sense that they play more for comfort than originality – but nonetheless their most fully realized songs are captivating.
Much of the allure belongs to lead singer Skye Edwards, a sultry singer in the style of Sade (but not as accomplished) who nonetheless stamps Morcheeba’s music with a reflective mode verging on the nostalgic and melancholy. The nostalgia aspect is considerably amplified by the band’s neo-1960s/70s grooves, textures and instrumentation. But each song contains a stylistic mix that would be unusual in those past decades that successfully lends individuality to even to most derivative performance.
My favorite song of theirs (at the moment) is the opening cut of “Big Calm” CD. This is The Sea, a lyrically trite (verging on the banal) ode to the restorative effects of being at the seaside. But this does not matter, as the arrangement is sublime, complete with Chic-era strings, Miles Davis keyboard ripples, Hendrix/60-70s soul wah-wah guitar, and a gentle shuffle beat (rich in percussion) underneath it all. I think it is the Chic strings that really do it for me – harmonically very simple and direct (and we really can go all the way back to The Beatles for the shedding of the lush romantic string orchestra that characterised almost all pop music beforehand). A very tasty wah-wah guitar solo ends the track, placing it nearly (but not quite) back in the late 1960s, and the strings divide and play Paul Buckmaster-style (think Bowie’s Space Oddity) figures before the fade.
Derivative, yes, but still hits me in all the right places.