Rykodisc Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


"Nothing out there sounds like them," is a phrase that I haven't heard that much in the '90s. I didn't hear it last night when Third Eye Blind came to do a concert. I didn't hear that phrase when it came to describing any of the No Limit recording artists (sorry Snoop). In fact, one clear instance where I did hear that phrase was when I first heard the Dave Matthews Band. And that band even has its own fiddle player.

That makes Morphine all the more special when it comes to bands that strike a nerve in their fans. They're a damn trio and there's no way you can mistake their sound. Billy Conway's sparse drumming, Dana Colley's low throbbing baritone sax and Mark Sandman's suave voice. Sandman also has some of the meanest bass chops in the business, playing a 2 string slide bass.

Good and Cure For Pain, their first two major albums, were great indications of their power. But it was Yes when Morphine's sound finally solidified into one incrediable album. There's enough lyrical moments in the album to make it an alternative existance. Electric cigarette lighters, day-glo orange life perservers and the elusive date, "March 4th, 1982" are all words that will stick in your mind like overcooked oatmeal.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Pay no mind to the slightly derailed 2nd half of the album, the first half of the album ranks at the top of "great first halves" of any album in modern rock. Starting off with the bellowing sax of "Honey White," Morphine has all cylindars firing up until the song, "The Jury". They do this by doing what they do best:work the trinity of the band. That trinity is a catchy-as-hell bass and sax hook. After that is established, Conway's drums supply the tight downbeat. Finally, Sandman's spooky voice and memorable lyrics provide the topping.

The first half volleys between pensive, brooding ballads and full-out rockers. The confessional, "All Your Way" and the pulsating, "Super Sex" will make you wish you had a convertable. It's near-perfect driving music. And for the stationary folks, it is also perfect whiskey drinking music, right around 2 a.m.

What makes the first half so great, the structure that refuses to remain in their restricive boundaries, expands at the last half of the album. It is there where Yes straddles between sheer brilliance and plain sillyness. "The Jury", coming right after the hushed, "I Had My Chance" is pure drunken sub-conscious id. It revolves around a judge sentencing a woman to do hard time, but he is thinking of candle light, caesar salad and some precious privacy to get it on with his highness.

"Sharks" is a great jammer though. Colley sounds like he's about to bust his sax reed at the end of the song, but it's a rocker in the truest sense. After that intense ditty, the album derails into the train-wreck-love sucks tale of "Free Love". It's a good song, just not as classic as the seven or eight other songs on the album. Finally, the album closes with the pensive, "Gone For Good", a track that would have fit perfectly on their first album, Good.

Even with two fair songs on the album, it still deserves to be ranked among the best albums that this decade has put out. To be a trio, playing traditional instruments and produce something so original and so accessible at the same time is an accomplishment that few bands around today can live up to. If you haven't been initiated into the band's sound, by all means, pick up Yes first. And before picking up Cure For Pain or Like Swimming, their last album, pick up some decent scotch on your way home. One listen and you'll either be hooked or have the maddening urge to put on Matchbox 20. You know what side you're on.

Rating: A

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© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.