If English brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey could rap, the music world would likely be without the soulful sounds of Morcheeba, whose alluring third album was released in early August.
"Hip-hop is a really big part of why Morcheeba came to exist," producer Paul Godfrey explained from a Los Angeles hotel room. "My brother and I were very much into hip-hop growing up and knew we wanted to do something with it. But, you see, English people can't rap. With our accents, it sounds silly. So we started making music that other people could rap over."
Luckily, the pair's music a blend of deep grooves, jazzy horns and hip-hop-tempo beats attracted not a rapper, but a sultry singer in Skye Edwards, Morcheeba's bread and butter since forming in suburban Kent, England, in 1995.
The trio have since released two EPs and three albums, garnering critical acclaim and bolstering a trip-hop movement led by artists such as Portishead and Everything but the Girl.
Fragments of Freedom (Aug. 1), the follow-up to 1998's hit Big Calm, marks a departure for Morcheeba, who, until now, have occupied the niche of dark, moody music. Their latest is immediately noticeable for its quicker tempos, propelled by a new devotion to funk as well as guest appearances by rappers Biz Markie, Mr. Complex and Bahamadia.
"Morcheeba has always done music with some happy elements, but this record was more of a challenge, as we stayed away from anything dark," Paul said. "I think it's very difficult to write upbeat music. It's easier to be artistic when you are writing with sorrow."
Morcheeba achieved this personality makeover by taking some time off something they hadn't done since the group snowballed into British superstardom after the release of their debut album, 1996's Who Can You Trust. Ross got married and had a child, while Paul got back into DJing.
"We basically got our lives back," he said. "It was nice. When we decided to start writing again, we were all anxious to get back to work."
Fragments of Freedom is as much a pop album as it is a trip-hop album. Songs such as "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" (RealAudio except), the group's current single, and "World Looking In" (RealAudio except) have hooks so sharp they could leap from the dance to pop chart without skipping a beat.
Morcheeba, however, haven't abandoned their dance element. "A Well Deserved Break" (RealAudio excerpt), which features Fimber Bravo on steel drums, is a drum-machine-fueled jam session that wouldn't be out of place on Groove Armada's album, while "Love Sweet Love" is a sexy dancefloor ditty that borrows a beat from old-school hip-hop.
" 'Rome Wasn't Built in a Day' was the most challenging track we did in that it's such an upbeat song," Paul said. "Everything about it is so happy, we were a bit apprehensive about how our fans would react to it. But I think most people get it."
The always amusing Biz Markie, whom Godfrey called a hip-hop legend, lends his unforgettable voice to "In the Hands of the Godz" (RealAudio excerpt), a standout track despite its mere one and a half minutes. On "Good Girl Down," Edwards' vocal prowess shines next to the velvety raps of Bahamadia, the Philly MC who released her latest album, BB Queen, in July.
"All of our collaborations come together very naturally," Paul said. "We felt very, very strongly about making sure nothing sounded forced."
Click HERE to download Morcheeba's "In the Hands of Gods (Tumbleweed Gunslinger Mix)" from sonicnet.com's free downloads page.