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Buy Morcheeba's 'Fragments of Freedom.'

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Beats and Pieces: Morcheeba reluctantly returns from hibernation.

Cheeba Cheeba, Y'all

Morcheeba returns with a new crop of hits on 'Charango.' Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

By Michael Alan Goldberg

PICTURE BEING in Moscow, prowling the streets for some primo vodka, gawking at Lenin's embalmed corpse in Red Square and indulging in some Cold War-era paranoia. Morcheeba's Paul Godfrey, however, harbored no such inclinations during the group's inaugural trip to Russia last summer.

"I couldn't tell you what Moscow's like. I was just in one of those moods where I wanted to lock myself in the room and not see anyone," says the British trio's resident beathead and chief lyricist. "There're times when you just have to hibernate."

For American fans, Morcheeba appears to have been in a deep slumber for years. The group's current U.S. tour is its first since 1999, despite two albums in the interim--2000's Fragments of Freedom and its most recent, 2002's Charango. But the collective personalities of Godfrey, his guitar-slinging brother, Ross, and singer Skye Edwards contributed to the lengthy absence. Unlike most bands, which will jump at every shameless promotional opportunity--or the numbers of people crawling over each other to get on reality-TV shows--the members of Morcheeba shy away from the spotlight, finding celebrity as distasteful as a Siberian layover.

"None of us want to be famous, not at all," Godfrey insists. "What sickens me is that people so want to be famous, but they don't even know why they want to--or should be--famous. They're not creating anything or offering mankind anything; they're just eating worms."

Though they shudder at the notion of being recognized on the street, they won't languish in musical obscurity, either. Morcheeba created Fragments of Freedom with a desire to connect with larger audiences in mind. The band readily admits that the album's sunnier disposition and more overtly pop structures may have alienated those fans who would have preferred that Morcheeba remain in the narcotic, melancholic trip-hop haze that characterized its previous output.

"With Fragments, we just wanted--and not for greed's sake or anything--a song that you'd hear on every radio station everywhere in the world; that was just an ambition of ours," Godfrey explains. "And in a lot of ways, 'Rome Wasn't Built in a Day' was [that song]. It was a massive European hit--and in a lot of places around the world as well. Mass communication is nice, especially when your songs are of a good quality.

"But your ambitions change as you go along," he continues, "and I think [that] with Charango we just wanted to do something a bit deeper. This album is much more back to our earlier mentality where, yeah, maybe it doesn't have the immediate radio hits, but it's like, people discover it, tell their friends about it."

Charango just might be Morcheeba's best effort to date, basking in the sensual, cinematic moodiness that marked the group's earliest recordings even as it continues to expand Morcheeba's stylistic focus. While Skye's resplendent voice takes center stage once again, her winsome, unruffled melodies unfold over crisp, deliberate beats and lush arrangements that venture further than ever into hip-hop, lounge-exotica, blues and country realms.

And the Godfrey brothers are so adept at weaving such disparate sounds together that their mesmerizing tracks work as well with Skye's laid-back delivery as they do with the viciously hilarious rhymes of Slick Rick ("Women Lose Weight"), the sobering vocals of Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner ("What New York Couples Fight About") and the flow-of-battle rapper Pacewon ("Charango," "Get Along").

With such excellent material, both past and present, and a well-deserved reputation as a dynamic live act, even Godfrey admits it's high time for Morcheeba to come out of hibernation and hit the U.S. highways once again.

"We know we should come and meet people and play good music for them," he says. "We've got a lot of fans in the States, and it's been kind of unfair of us to stay away."


Morcheeba performs Friday (Feb. 7) at 8pm at the Warfield Theater, 982 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25 and available through Ticketmaster.


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From the February 6-12, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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