There was no bigger cliché, in the music once known as trip-hop, than the sultry female vocalist singing over an electronic chill-out beat. It was a formula so overused and abused that it eventually caved in on itself, turning the genre into pure background sounds. Passion disappeared, boredom ensued, and an era ended.
While pioneers such as Massive Attack and Portishead led the trip-hop charge with an audacious mix of experimentation and accessibility, darkness and beauty, other groups had a harder time standing out. Morcheeba falls into this latter category. Brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey took care of the music while singer Skye Edwards provided the requisite dreamy coo. At its best, the British group had some lush, evocative tracks. At its worst, it was banal and played it too safe, but the band sold records.
So what happens when you take away the girl? After experiencing the proverbial "creative differences," the Godfreys parted ways with Edwards in 2003.
Their next album, 2005's The Antidote (still under the Morcheeba name), was a commercial and creative disappointment on which new singer Daisy Martey inevitably got compared (mostly unfavourably) to Edwards, and the songs just didn't cut it.
"We made a mistake on our last record," Ross Godfrey says. "After working with Skye for so long, the record company insisted we retain the band formation. We didn't feel it was relevant.
"We wanted to draw from different collaborators, more like a travelling circus. . . . We always felt that Morcheeba was limited by the fact that we weren't working with different vocalists."
The band's latest, Diving Deep, is both a surprising return to form and a creative leap -- OK, bunny hop. Replacing Martey with an array of guest vocalists, both male and female, Morcheeba gets its groove back on the strength of some new sounds and solid songwriting.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Thomas Dybdahl's raspy croon carries three moving tunes, while Judy Tzuke's brings a soft folk touch to two more, French songstress Manda lends a romantic touch to "Au Dela," and friend Bradley Burgess gives a '70s feel to the John Martyn cover "Run Honey Run."
The varied roster puts the group in line with Massive Attack, Zero 7 and Washington, D.C., duo Thievery Corporation -- laid-back electronica acts without a permanent singer, who call in favours when needed. For fans of Edwards' breathy voice, the sting of the split is soothed by the effectiveness of the new material.
"Skye got kind of bored," Godfrey says, explaining Morcheeba's membership shuffle. "She wanted to write her own stuff, and we really didn't feel we wanted to do similar things, so we asked her to leave the band. It was best for [all] of us. It was becoming painful. We had a love for each other, so before it went sour, it was sort of a preemptive agreement. It was reasonably amicable.
"We've had our ups and downs over the past few years. My brother was suffering from depression, and we've both had problems with drugs. So it was a good time to deal with deep-rooted issues. Diving Deep felt like going inside ourselves to see what was there, battling our own personal sea monsters and coming back rejuvenated."
Where: Commodore Ballroom, 868 Granville St.
When: Tonight at 9:30
Tickets: SOLD OUT
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