This review can also be found at The Yorker.
Sometimes in my hectic schedule, and especially in busy times like the weeks leading up to exams, good music is essential to relaxation.And while I'm one of those strange people who'll enjoy ambient music; for everyone else who'd rather want something more involved there are bands like Morcheeba. A halfway point between Zero 7 and Massive Attack, they have a very low key and down- to-earth sound. While I don't think they've been in the public focus much, there's a pretty big chance you've heard one of their older hits, The Sea from their album Big Calm. And now they've released a new album, the slightly dark title of Blood Like Lemonade. And I must say, that spooky tone is definitely present in the album, but instead of going against the chilled out vibe they're known for, it settles in well.
'Crimson' as a leading track gets right down to what Morcheeba's best at, a languid bass and synth piano riff, with lead singer Skye Edwards giving vocals like she's in a smoky underground club. Lyrics like "down the dusty trails of treason" and "sunshine suicide survivor" are, while fitting of the theme, not what I was expecting to hear, doing an audio double-take. Then a creepy breathing sound started. I looked over my shoulder for a crazed axe murderer, but it turned out that it was Track 2, 'Even Though'. The breathing eventually gave way to the main beat of the song, but began to miss it; it would have been an interesting percussion sample.
Track 3 is the title track, 'Blood Like Lemonade'. I was bracing for more creepy beats, but instead, I got a brighter, poppy bass and a light sprinkling of turntablism. And lyrics about a holy man who becomes a renegade vampire. It had my head bopping, but I began to chuckle at how incredibly insistent the theme was; though thankful for the subtle light-heartedness.
'Mandala' is an interlude with a dusty, western feel. I have a soft spot for instrumental tracks, and I let this one loop a few times, while I daydreamed about being a cowboy - but then I remembered I was in the middle of essay writing. 'I Am The Spring' is an acoustic guitar and vocals number, which - although pleasant - was a little boring. 'Recipe for Disaster' is the fusion of the Wild West guitars of 'Mandala', and the unusually dark lyrics of 'Crimson'. Then again, it's also filled with cookery puns. You're not taking your morbid tone very seriously, are you Morcheeba?
I really like 'Easier Said Than Done'. They take a break from the mockingly grim tone, and go for a more minimal, electronic approach. The lyrics are more motivational and calming; with an intro and bridge that wouldn't be out of place in Tron. The 80's one. 'Cut To The Bass' starts with with some really heavy drum beats and scratching, and just when I thought it was going to ease up, the bass starts up a growling riff with synth organ and guitar in the background. It's a simple arrangement, but funky; and as the track goes, the parts just click in to place and snowball. A big, grooving snowball.
'Self Made Man' stands well, but it struggles to compete with the previous two tracks. The echoes on percussion give the track a spacey feel, coupled with the swaying backing chords. The lyrics feel a little weak on this one, and part of me feels this one would have been better off as another instrumental. And finally there's 'Beat Of The Drum'. The sound definitely reflects the title, the percussion is very much like marching. It's really not very interesting. The melody strikes that mood of closing and finality, but doesn't go out on a creepy note like the start of the album, nor with the powerful arrangements of 'Cut To The Bass'. What a shame.
Blood Like Lemonade is definitely what I expect and love about Morcheeba, even if the ending is a little damp. I definitely recommend a purchase to add more chill vibes to your music collection, and to get you through the exam period. Trust me.
Like this? Try: Zero 7, Massive Attack, Portishead