Monday, September 1, 2008

Morphine - Yes

In a rock & roll world divided between guitar bands and synth bands, Morphine exist in a no-man's zone. The Boston trio has neither guitars nor keyboards and gets by with just drums, sax, and bass. In a pop universe where every singer, guitarist, and keyboardist instinctively goes to a higher note to attract attention, Morphine stay hunkered down low. Billy Conway's tuned drum kit, Dana Colley's baritone sax and Mark Sandman's baritone vocals and two-string slide bass all occupy the same low-end band of the sound spectrum. Morphine's odd configuration would have no more than novelty value if Sandman's songs weren't so good. This album's first single, "Honey White," for instance, rides the back of a fast, angular baritone riff to describe a pretty, young girl hooked on drugs. In the dark comedy of Sandman's rock-noir purr, Honey tells her dealer, "You'll get me when I'm old and wizened and not a day before that." He replies, "It won't be that long." The beat and the humor are essential, for otherwise these jazzy, elliptical mood pieces would become unbearably pretentious. The broken relationship described in "Radar" is a pop cliché, but it's given new life by the shattered R&B riff and by the nit-picking bickering of lines like "If I am guilty, so are you. It was March 4, 1982." In similar fashion, modern paranoia and sexual gamesmanship are nailed to the wall in "Sharks" and "Whisper" respectively. --Geoffrey Himes


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