Is it wrong to like Morphine this much?
I had this strange sense of deja vu a couple minutes ago sitting on my couch, drinking a Newcastle and listening to music: "This is just like college." Well, maybe not exactly like college. The room is bigger, the couch nicer, the hair gone and the drink more expensive than cherry Kool-Aid.
But the album, Morphine's Yes, is the same.
I got this record accidently in one of those Columbia House-300-CDs-for-a-penny deal. I was probably trying to get Soul Asylum or something and ended up with Morphine, a band I had never heard of, instead. It took a while for me to listen to the record--but it only took once.
There's not a sound like Morphine's: two-string slide bass, baritone sax, soulful drums and sardonic/spoken-word vocals combining to create both experimental and sexy sounds. An underlying eroticism to the sound is also kinda playful at times. I was hooked immediately and the record remains one of my favorites.
The addictive "Honey White" (the first single) and "Super Sex" are radio friendly, but don't sprial out into the sugary pop atmosphere, thanks in large part to Mark Sandman's provocative vocals and bass playing. There is so much space contained in these songs thanks to the efficient drumming of Billy Conway and punctuated by the sax stabs of Dana Colley. You would think the instrumentation would be restricting, but this unlikely power-trio employs it brilliantly. Two of the songs on the album were recorded on the road, including the fantastic "I Had My Chance," recorded live at KCRW. What's so stunning about that track in particular is how it doesn't sound any different from the studio tracks. This was a band at the height of their live career, playing road-tested songs with unrivaled precision.
I'll admit, the album does have a few dips. The more experimental "The Jury" doesn't have the same energy and excitement of the previous eight tracks and the more straightforward voice and acoustic guitar of "Gone For Good" is pretty but boring. Regardless, the sounds are rich and memorable and brave, especially when considered against the more fashionable guitar revolution of the mid-90s. This record is incredibly refreshing and a perfect companion to a cigar and your favorite beverage (Kool-Aid or something more potent).
Sadly, on July 3, 1999, Sandman collapsed on stage during a performance in Rome, dying of a heart attack at the age of 47. Though never breaking out of cult status, the band is a rarity, replacing potentially dated guitar riffs with a unique bass and sax combo, helping the music feel more timeless. Bluesy, bare-bones, guitar-less rock and roll.
I think I'll listen again...
Honey White (mp3) - Morphine
Scratch (mp3) - Morphine
Yes (mp3) - Morphine