The easy-listening alternative to the haunting and unsettling presence of Beth Gibbons, the soothing velvety tones of Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards helped trip-hop to crossover to the coffee house scene in the mid-90s. Up until now, her solo career has pursued a similarly cosy path. However, third studio effort, Back To Now, sees her belatedly tiptoe onto the dancefloor at the relatively late age of 38.
Thankfully there isn’t anything as contrived as a Swedish House Mafia-esque ravey breakdown or a robotic dubstep wobble to be found amongst the album’s ten tracks, with the ABBA-inspired Europop of “Every Little Lie” the closest the record gets to anything approaching 150BPM.
But it’s still refreshing to hear Skye’s effortlessly graceful vocals tackle material even just a little less sedate than her usual melancholic fare, particularly opener, “Troubled Heart,” an intriguing blend of mystical chants, bursts of brass and dubby beats which sounds like Mark Ronson given a world music makeover. Meanwhile, in the continuing absence of La Roux, Back To Now’s lead single “Featherlight” and the glitchy electro of “Little Bit Lost” fill the 80s-inspired nu synth-pop vacancy quite nicely indeed.
However, while Steve Fitzmaurice’s production is occasionally as quirky as his work with Metronomy, there isn’t much here which leaves a lasting impression. It’s pleasant, it’s sophisticated, it’s undoubtedly classy, but despite the subtle increase in tempo, it’s never more than mildly diverting background dinner party music.
And after a perky start, Skye appears to lose her bottle towards the end with two plodding unremarkable ballads, “Dissolve” & “Bright Light,” which could easily be leftovers from 2010’s Blood With Lemonade, her disappointingly muted reunion album with Morcheeba.
Indeed, with such a majestic voice, it’s a shame that Skye has never really found the material to match it since 1998’s Big Calm, and Back To Now’s half-hearted attempt to broaden her musical horizons unfortunately means she’s still waiting.