Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Top 100 Albums - #24: Mind How You Go (2006)

At number 24 is Mind How You Go, the debut solo album from Skye Edwards, ex-singer with Morcheeba.
Shirley Klarisse Yonavive Edwards, better known to the world as Skye, was born in London in 1974. After leaving school, she worked as a session singer before being recruited by The Godfrey Brothers (Ross and Paul). The resulting band would become Morcheeba, with this line-up producing four albums - the tentative and mysterious Who Can You Trust? (1996); the critically acclaimed, chilled-out Big Calm (1998, #54); the bright, poppy Fragments Of Freedom (2000); and the well-rounded, collected Charango (2002). On all four recordings Skye received plaudits for her voice, and in-between she appeared on the all-star re-recording of Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' for Children in Need in 1997. After the release of the Parts Of The Process compilation in 2003, Skye was asked to leave Morcheeba because of increasing musical differences between the trio. She spent the next two years raising her first child and began to collaborate with producer Gary Clark.

We begin this little-known album with 'Love Show'. All at once, it isn't hard to spot the change in sound from the Morcheeba days. The riffs are lighter, the production more spacious, and the mood a lot more relaxed. Skye's voice has changed as well: all the dark, smoky feel present on Big Calm has gone, and instead she comes across as much happier, more innocent, more content. You could almost call it fluffy. Don't think, though, that all that made Morcheeba great has been lost - the deep bass and fake drums remain, making this track a very skillful, subltle opener. It's hardly the most substantial song ever made, but as a means of introducing this new Skye, there is little on which we can fault it.

'Stop Complaining' keeps the mood up and the tempo down. This time the piano provides the backing to Skye's new-found cheeriness. But unlike a lot of similar singers, her happiness does not come across as vacuous or fake. Skye has never needed a gimmick to sell records - her voice managed that quite well, and it's much the same here. If anyone else sang the chorus - You're here and I'm here/ So I stop complaining/ It could be raining/ And I see the answer's in your eyes - they would be booed off stage and dismissed as a three-a-penny no-hit wonder. But with Skye, you are carried on a warm wave of satisfaction which leaves you unwilling to criticise it.

'Solitary' presents a different side of Skye. Here she is more doubtful, more ponderous of her position. Indeed the lyrics could be reflective of her relationship with her former bandmates - You said the things you said/ And you twisted me up, for instance. Sticking with the lyrics, they do try to be too clever, too full of imagery to pass muster completely. But the chorus is enough to rescue it, ringing out serenely amid the unobtrusive percussion. This is at heart a chillout sound, and a pretty damn good one at that.

Since 'Solitary' and 'Calling' are exactly the same length (4:16 long) you could be forgiven for assuming that the latter is a carbon copy, and just skip over it. I would advise against this, however, since this is another very good song. Skye is pushing her voice harder on this one, melding it with the acoustic on the verses and then fighting feistily against the drums on the chorus. The drums, incidentally, do soundstrange, like the skins are being played with table tennis equipment (listen to the cross-stick snare on the verse to see what I mean).

So far, we have been soothed and we have been entertained, but there have only been hints of any distinctive direction. 'What's Wrong With Me' is the first track where we start to get an idea of where Skye is taking us. Suffice to say, it's a very pleasing direction. The looped, distorted opening is a wonderful pastiche of the dark, throbbing effects we saw on Who Can You Trust?, set against a lovely, yearning series of chords on electric guitar. Skye meanwhile sings as she did in her Morcheeba prime - with a seductive sweetness, which chills you completely and teases you at the same time. This is certainly evident in the way she gently breathes the chorus, and it is exactly what we expect from her. The percussion is kept simple, with quiet electronic drums and hardly any bass, which is just as well since the whole mood would have been runined by some Fender Precision noodling. This is 4-and-a-bit minutes of utterly serene, thoroughly beautiful and surprisingly catchy singer-songwriting. And the rarity of such a thing these days is more than enough to merit its place on the album.

Unfortunately, having laid out a template for success, Skye chooses to ignore it on the next track. 'No Other' tries too hard to be emotional and heartfelt, and as a result ends up as the exact opposite. There is not enough variation in the chords she has created to make the music all that compelling, and her ill-fated attempts at some Roy LaMontaigne-style howling of the higher notes just doesn't scan. 'Tell Me About Your Day' is better, introducing a silky oboe into the mix. Once again Skye is in the foreground of production; there are more drums this time around but they are squashed and pushed way, way back to give the singer more room. The fact that she doesn't really need it leads you to be surprised by how quiet she sounds. This in turn makes you listen more intently - and then the lyrics begin to bring a smile to your face.

'All The Promises', sadly, is more humdrum. As on the last track, Skye is quiet, but unlike before there is almost nothing to fill the gaps around her and drive the track forwards. There is acoustic, but for the most part it is ineffective. For the first 50 seconds, this comes across as a poor relation, or parody, of 'Over & Over'. And even when the drums do come in, on the chorus about a minute in, they are too tinny and restricted to add much life.

Thank heavens, then, for 'Powerful'. The intro is a dream, with wonderful descant strings soaring through our ears while being counterpointed with the simple, lilting guitar part. Skye sings heavenly, still sounding fresh and interesting but utilising a lot of the old tricks she picked up from the earlier stages of her career. The opening lines, Then we both went home/ On separate trains are reminiscent of her performance on the Children in Need record, and she delivers the excellent chorus with the same upbeat teasing that made Fragments Of Freedom so enjoyable. This is a much better effort lyrically than a lot of stuff on here - one could even say that it makes 'What's Wrong With Me' seem lazy in comparison. It all just feels so tight, focussed and together, while maintaining a large amount of lustre. It's like a jazz song, elementally. It may have a time signature, but that does not serve as a self-imposed limit on where the piece can be taken, like it so often does in rock. This is magical.

The final two songs are quieter, more composed and less ethereal than 'Powerful', but they are still impressive in their own way. 'Say Amen' may have a more trip-hop intro, but the melody is closer to soul and is in no way sterile. For the first 2 minutes this has a sound collage feel to it, with the vocals carrying all the melody and little behind it for support. But at 2:16 a drum machine comes in, moving ahead of the tempo and hurrying the whole thing along. This creates an interesting feel which suits Skye's more urgent phrases. 'Jamaica Days', meanwhile, is a fitting eulogy to her Carribean heritage. It's the shortest track, at 2:16, but you do get Skye all to herself. There are no instruments, so there is nothing to distract you from the serenity and beauty of her voice - different, but still beautiful.

To the untrained ear, or non-Morcheeba fans, Mind How You Go can come across badly. With its largely ballad-esque content and soft, laid-back acoustic feel, many will simply disgard it, branding it alongside the efforts of Marc Cohn and Damien Rice - pleasant on the surface, but with little distinctive underneath. While that criticism may well be levelled at Messrs. Cohn and Rice, with Skye it is a different story. Morcheeba fans will obviously pick up on the motifs and techniques contained herein, but even if you come to this record a complete stranger to their sound then you will find something you like very easily. This album is like an Eddi Reader record, insofar as you get a lot of similar songs which chill you out, make you feel good and reveal different little touches to whoever is listening. But you also get a sweetness, a crisp, organic sweetness which Reader's material, along with many others, is lacking. Yes, this is not the deepest, most substantial record ever made, but it is a worthy start for solo Skye, providing hope that her second album will be even better.

4.00 out of 5

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