A friend of mine today reminded me of one of my favorite bands and great regrets in music – Morphine. Mark Sandman passed away 12 years ago leaving Dana Colley and Billy Conway to continue together with Twinemen and Members of Morphine up to the present day.
Morphine has an incredibly unique sound owing to the sparse arrangements, Conway’s brazen sax, Colley’s bangin’ the snare and, of course, Mark’s massive 2-string fretless bass – so goth, so bluesy, so amazing. Actually, they are also conspicuous for what is missing – no guitar! Morphine released four albums before Mark passed away and one afterwards: Good, Cure for Pain, Yes, Like Swimming, and The Night. I heard of them thanks to colleagues in Boston soon after the release of Cure for Pain. That is probably bar none my favorite Morphine disc. I mean there are all good but for the in order of best to weakest (there is no worst): Cure for Pain, Good, The Night, Yes, Like Swimming.
Good is an amazing debut album from Morphine featuring some of their most beautiful songs: You Look Like Rain, The Saddest Song, and I know You. Claire and Lisa are the featured girls here. I suppose that The Other Side sounds a bit prophetic now in retrospect as does Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave. I have always loved Have a Lucky Day and the title song Good as well.
Cure for Pain is a heartbreakingly dark and beautiful album that brings us the irony of Thursday, the strangeness of A Head With Wings, the angered disappointment of In Spite of Me, the pro-drug Cure for Pain, several ladies: Buena, Sheila, Candy (well technically Sheila’s a Cat :). There are no weak moments, no let up in the atmosphere. It was Mark at his finest. The final touch from Conway, Miles Davis’ Funeral is something that every jazz fan will get teary-eyed over.
They rocked a bit more on Yes with Honey White and Super Sex in particular. Scratch, Yes, Free Love were cool too. Radar and Whisper stronger and brighter as well. Sharks a bit of beat poetry. The July as well. Another strong album but with less that still sticks to me like so many of the tracks from Good and Cure for Pain.
Like Swimming represented a dead end for Morphine as they had probably played out their sound and were due for a change. There are some memorable moments here such as Early to Bed and Potion but overall, they were in the beating a dead horse mode and it sounds a bit stale.
Mark died before The Night was released. He saw the dead end in Like Swimming and worked feverishly to change and evolve Morphine’s sound. So feverishly that, perhaps, it killed him. The posthumous disc is a great Morphine disc that features big changes in musical direction such as the oriental feel of Rope of Fire. I liked hearing a bit of the old pre-Yes Morphine in Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer and Souvenir. I’m Yours, Your Mine, The Night and Take Me With You are all great as well. Just makes Mark’s passing all the more regretful.
I can also recommend B-Sides & Otherwise which came out just after Like Swimming and has some nice studio outtakes such as I Know You, Have a Lucky Day, and All Wrong. Pulled over the Car, Bo’s Veranda, and Down Love’s Tributaries are also very memorable.
I saw Morphine live about 4 times. I saw them twice in Paris and twice in Austin, TX. All four were incredible shows and I actually talked to Mark for a few brief seconds after the second Paris show. Really cool guy. Mark, R.I.P. Dana and Billy, rock on!