August 31, 2000

When the Highs are at a Low

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Morcheeba have finally come out of their pot-induced haze. Perhaps it’s to celebrate the success of their previous album Big Calm, which went platinum in their native Britain and has been on the Top 10 sales list since it came out in 1998? Maybe they’ve sobered up to plan their conquest of the American market? Whatever the case may be, there is one thing that is certain. Their highly anticipated follow-up, Fragments of Freedom, has been slotted as Morcheeba’s breakthrough album by the American media powers-that-be. This album will decide whether the band becomes the missionaries of chic, British trip-hop in America or just another under-appreciated college radio band like Portishead or Massive Attack.

With Fragments of Freedom, Morcheeba uses all of the old tricks of the trip-hop trade. The album is an amalgam of various, eclectic sounds. On the opening track, “World Looking In,” Ross Godfrey reuses the blues guitar twang of their previous hit, “Part of the Process.”

In many of the songs, he also complements Skye Edwards’ soulful and seductive voice with psychedelic, wah-wah affected guitar riffs. With “Love Sweet Love,” brother Paul Godfrey revives the old-school rap sound of Grandmaster Flash. The polyester-enshrouded corpse of disco is also resurrected with “Shallow End.” There’s even a steel drum instrumental track (“A Well Deserved Break”)! Add an array of rappers (Mr. Complex, Biz Markie, Bahamadia), sprinkle a few turntable scratches here and there, generously mix in some beats, and you have an amazing trip-hop album, right?

Well, not exactly. Fragments of Freedom is significantly different from their past two albums in that the band is clearly going for a less produced and less trippy sound. For example, actual drums replace programmed beats on most tracks. Ross Godfrey’s elegant sitar accompaniments are also conspicuously missing.

In general, Morcheeba abandons the complex and lush soundscapes of Big Calm for a simple pop sound bursting with sunshine. So, what the hell is trip-hop without the trip? It’s shit.

Fragments of Freedom is not so much a phase of sobriety, but it’s the inevitable post-high laziness and idiocy that one encounters the day after. Their first single from this album, “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day,” is the most indicative of its flaws. It is both the best and worst song on the album.

Sounding like a lost Supremes track, it’s by far the most infectious and radio-friendly track on the album. Yet, the once meaningful and poetic refrains of Paul Godfrey (“I’m so glad to love you / And it’s getting worse / I’m so mad to love you / And your evil curse”) have degraded to childish nursery rhymes (“You and me / Were meant to be / Walking free / In harmony”). Instead of taking the time to construct the complex layers of sound that made songs on Big Calm so great, Ross Godfrey hastily ties together the entire song with a single melody. Fragments of Freedom simply lacks the clever lyrics and the sublime sound that made people want to listen to Big Calm over and over again.

So, as a huge fan of the band, I implore them to get back in their basement apartment in Kent, smoke a few bowls, look out at the stars, and return with another album that is more indicative of their genius and creativity. For the love of God and for the sake of their careers, they should follow their namesake and smoke more cheeba!

Archived article by Kouki Harasaki