It's amazing how just a few years differentiate innovation from imitation. As soon as Portishead made "trip-hop" a part of pop-music parlance, sneaky slow-beated neophytes began to sprout up like weeds, unable to resist the lure of the cool new cash cow. Morcheeba initially seemed like one of those pale copycat usurpers, but listening to the band's 1996 debut Who Can You Trust? made you quickly realize that it's the real deal. In fact, in some ways, Morcheeba is superior to Portishead: Where Geoff Barrow and Beth Gibbons create bloodless, gothic soundtracks, Morcheeba (brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey and singer Skye Edwards) approaches its music from an acoustic standpoint, utilizing samplers and turntables as embellishment, but primarily building upon a bed of live instrumentation. In this way, Morcheeba isn't worlds apart from the silky soul of Sade; it's just hipped up for contemporary consumption. The group's new Big Calm is even more song-oriented than its debut. "Shoulder Holster" uses sitar and Indian percussion to great effect, bolstering an already sublime hook, while "Blindfold" explores the darker side of Morcheeba's quiet storm. "Friction" is a nice take on reggae that refuses to be pigeonholed as such, and "Over & Over"—a subdued folk song far more reminiscent of Nick Drake than Sneaker Pimps—even abandons beats entirely. All these songs reveal Morcheeba's impressive versatility, stressing songwriting over DJing, and thus ensuring its continued creative success beyond passing fads.
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