ALEX CHADWICK, host:
You cannot imagine The Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger. Bands are often identified by the lead singer, but not Morcheeba. This British band plays trip-hop--that's a mix of jazz fusion and hip-hop--with the mellow silky vocals of lead singer Skye Edwards. But no more. Morcheeba has a new CD with a new singer and a new sound. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR reporting:
Really good chill-out music; that's how Morcheeba first gained a loyal following in the late 1990s.
(Soundbite of song "Trigger Hippie")
Ms. SKYE EDWARDS (Morcheeba): (Singing) Tune in, drop out, I love. Pull the trigger, I'm a hippie.
BLAIR: Paul and Ross Godfrey, brothers from southeast England, started Morcheeba along with singer Skye Edwards. Back then, they were interested in making music that was easy on the ears. They became favorites with the late-late-night crowd, sold at least a few million CDs and went on a worldwide tour, which they called From Brixton to Beijing.
(Soundbite of song "Part of the Process")
Ms. EDWARDS: (Singing) We're all companions, on which we sail. It's all part of the process. I can't hear you!
(Soundbite of cheering)
BLAIR: Morcheeba--`Mor' stands for `middle of the road,' and `cheeba' is slang for marijuana. Ross and Paul Godfrey came up with the name on a whim. But in China, their name was an issue.
Mr. ROSS GODFREY (Morcheeba): And we had to do, like, a lot of press conferences and they told us that we weren't allowed to mention what our name meant. They said: `Can you say that it means "a beautiful flower"?' And so we were doing this press conference in front of, like, 50 Chinese journalists and someone said, `What does your name mean?' and we said, `Beautiful flower,' and they all started laughing.
BLAIR: Ross Godfrey says they were later told that in Beijing `morcheeba' is slang for touching a certain part of the anatomy.
Mr. R. GODFREY: So it was kind of funny when they were chanting it at the gig.
BLAIR: That tour lasted about 18 months. After that, Morcheeba took a long break. When they decided to record again, the Godfrey brothers wanted to do something completely different. Paul Godfrey says he and his brother have a Rolodex full of musical styles they'd like to try, and that meant parting ways with singer Skye Edwards.
Mr. PAUL GODFREY (Morcheeba): And Skye was, you know, very key to our sound, our initial sound, but you know, we sort of wanted room to move and to grow. And, you know, we lived in each other's pockets for so long, and Ross and I were controlling Morcheeba, and, you know, I think Skye's confidence got to the point that she really wanted to branch out, and we agreed.
BLAIR: But some of Morcheeba's longtime fans disagreed. Even though the Godfreys write and arrange most of the songs and play most of the instruments, Skye Edwards had a serene and soulful presence. To some fans, Morcheeba wouldn't be the same without her, and that's exactly what Paul and Ross Godfrey wanted. For their new CD, they turned to a very different kind of singer named Daisy Martey.
Mr. P. GODFREY: Daisy's voice just allowed us to kind of, you know, go places that we hadn't been before.
(Soundbite of "Wonders Never Cease")
Ms. DAISY MARTEY (Morcheeba): (Singing) All that we've been through brings my soul so close to you. Why not cast your fears aside? We can laugh till we cry.
BLAIR: The new CD is called "Antidote." One of the styles the Godfreys pulled out of their Rolodex was '60s English folk rock.
Mr. P. GODFREY: Ross and I had the vision of the kind of style of music that we wanted to make and it was--yeah, sort of psychedelic folk rock, sort of West Coast, you know, mixed with a kind of English stuff. We were listening to a lot of Fairport and Fotheringay and Pentangle; I think Pentangle being the one that kind of inspired me.
(Soundbite of song "Light Flight")
PENTANGLE: (Singing) `Let's get away,' you say, `find a better place, miles and miles away from the city's race.' Look around for someone lying in the sunshine, marking time, hear the sighs, close your eyes.
BLAIR: Pentangle was a British folk rock group popular in the late '60s and early '70s. Paul and Ross Godfrey--who consider their musical roots to be hip-hop and electronica--have come up with songs that take a little something from all of their influences.
(Soundbite of "Ten Men")
MORCHEEBA: (Singing) Come, you son of a gun. How can it be done? We're still in the run. Ten men all rolled into one. Ten men in one! Ten men in one!
Mr. DENNIS SABAYAN (URB): With the new album, I think it--Daisy is the perfect accompaniment on Paul and Ross' long, strange trip because, you know, they're constantly trying to reinvent themselves.
BLAIR: Dennis Sabayan writes for URB--short for Urban--magazine. In his review, Sabayan says Morcheeba's new sound could make your plants grow healthy.
Mr. SABAYAN: It's a lively album. It's very colorful. I feel very uplifted, not only by Daisy Martey's vocals, but also by all these different elements--the tambourines. I was actually listening to it this morning and I just felt invigorated within minutes of putting it on. And so that's why I think--it definitely could make plants grow healthy.
(Soundbite of "Daylight Robbery")
Ms. MARTEY: (Singing) The heavy gangster helps himself; don't have time for no one else. Brittle bones and rotten veins celebrate ill-gotten gains. No time for justice or sweetness and light. How does he thrust his weakness aside? The grass is hissing to disallow this misappropriation now.
Hold on! It's daylight robbery. Hold up! You're bleeding us dry.
BLAIR: Even as they experiment with new sounds and new singers, Ross and Paul Godfrey are very particular about all of their songs. And they ran into a problem when they asked Daisy Martey, their new singer, to perform songs they'd written with their former singer, Skye Edwards, in mind. Paul Godfrey.
Mr. P. GODFREY: It just didn't work out live. I mean, it worked out great for the record, and then touring is a whole different thing where we play a lot of our old back catalog and stuff like that. And it just didn't really suit, so we had to find a more appropriate singer for our live group.
BLAIR: In other words, don't get too attached to Daisy Martey because she's no longer with the band. Ross Godfrey doesn't seem too concerned that their fans might not like some of these changes.
Mr. R. GODFREY: We don't really ever consider what fans think when we make music. It's kind of like the tail wagging the dog, if you know what I mean. If we worry about what people think, then we're never going to do anything different than when we started, you know. And we were very experimental when we started. So if we had listened to people's advice, we never would have got anywhere in the first place.
BLAIR: Morcheeba's new CD is called "Antidote." They're planning a US tour with a new singer in November. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
(Soundbite of "Antidote")
Ms. MARTEY: (Singing) My friend will let us in, no matter where we've been. I've got the antidote here. Go get a hit, eternal licks, yeah. We'll fix a mixture now. Go get a hit, eternal lick, yeah. We'll fix a mixture now.
CHADWICK: This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.