Morphine are truly an anomaly in the vast list of rock bands. Bass, drums, sax, and vocals are all the group needed to make their mark; no guitars necessary. During their brief career, the trio carved out a place in music history all to themselves. Their amazing sound was perfected on their 1995 release, Yes.
Morphine, as a group name, also provides insight into the general tone of their music. Deep, bluesy, jazz-trance topped off by Mark Sandman's spoken-sung vocals sound like nothing else you've ever heard. The bass slides all over the background of the songs, creating a slow, funky groove. Instead of lead guitar, the songs are punctuated and filled out by loud bursts and vibrating riffs from Dana Colley's saxophone. It goes without saying that this fact alone puts Morphine and their music in a class of their own.
Yes has a decent amount of latitude, and yet, the album rarely deviates from the overall sound and mood. From the quick, poppy "Honey White" (which was released as a single along with "Super Sex") to the dreamy "Whisper," to the somewhat spooky "The Jury," Morphine showcases just how much one can do with their unorthodox instrumentation. The songs, all composed by Sandman, are all extraordinary in their own right, and all together on one record create something nothing short of spectacular.
Mark Sandman's vocals are a perfect compliment to the eccentric melodies of the band. Sandman pivots on a dime from his normal speaking voice to his unmistakable baritone singing. A majority of the lyrics on Yes are of loss of love and the realization of fault in oneself. From the manner in which Sandman delivers the lyrics, one can only assume that the songs are autobiographical. At times, he is reminiscent of a blues singer as you can clearly tell he is singing from deep in his heart. Sadly, Morphine's career was cut short when Sandman collapsed and died on stage in Italy in 1999.
When a certain type of music becomes popular, bands by the dozens fall into line, creating the same sound over and over. Thankfully, when this occurs, there are also those who seek to create music as distant as possible from the mainstream. Ignoring the age old tradition of having a lead guitar to drive the music, Morphine created a sound that has never been heard since. The dusky, ambient, anesthetizing Yes showcases their amazing creativity and proves that paving new ground is always superior to replicating stale tradition.
Standout tracks: "Radar," "I Had My Chance," and "Sharks."