A little over two years ago, great friends of mine, Dan Griffin and Jarrod White, started a podcast where we shared our thoughts on music. We would recommend each other albums to either appreciate or despise, and in the early days, we chose releases that none of us heard. We started with Flamin’ Groovies’s Teenage Head, still a great piece of work to me. Through our short run, we gave each other albums by artists such as clipping, Fountains of Wayne, The Replacements. Recently, we have stopped. We hope to resurrect the podcast to just please our appetites to share our opinions on music. For now, we message each other every other day what to listen to. In the past few months, the three of us have shared recommendations equally amazing and mediocre albums, all-the-while having a blast talking to each other seeing what each thinks of the other’s picks. Just recently, I was recommended by Jarrod to listen to the band Morphine’s Good. I was struck by how sick it was for someone to name their band Morphine only to name their first release Good.
Oh, what a combination.
Founded in Boston, Mark Sandman, Dana Colley, and Jerome Deupree created something unique. Sandman’s vocals are deep and intoxicating, while the others in the band chose to bring out the band’s distinctive sound. Colley on the saxophone added a great layer of expression to the group, adding to each track to create something memorable. Where others at the time relied on guitar riffs, Colley came in with rich jazz sounds to hook in the listener. In a time where Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Alice in Chains were coming in to rock the scene, Morphine were in the sidelines creating non-standard arrangements to entice the listener. Throughout their career, they were never big on the radio, nor were they huge hits in the states. They toured around anywhere they could, but their popularity rested outside of the US. Up until their album “Yes,” their rising interest in other areas was growing. “Yes,” was their first album to make the Billboard 200, yet it was not popular for fans abroad, unlike other releases. To me, this is one was an excellent. Unfortunately, as they were recording/touring their album The Night, Sandman suffered a heart attack at Nel Nome del Rock Festival in Italy that killed him. Thus, the band disbanded.
If you listen to Good, you’ll pick up on the vocabulary that Sandman uses. His hooks are unique, while the members that accompany him are also enchanting. I find myself lost in almost every part of the album; the vocals, heavy saxophone riffs, and the percussion. In terms of vocals and songwriting, Sandman had this uncanny ability to suck you in with simple writing that gets stuck in your head so fast that you’ll find yourself muttering the chorus on your way to your daily commute. Him yelling “You speak my language” with the percussion pounding away is a clear symbol that these guys want to get inside of your mind and not come out. I will say that every song on this album is executed with precision when it comes to writing. “Each time I leave you I feel I could die,” is off of the song “Claire,” a song early in the album, Good. It is lyrics like this that make each release of Morphine so addicting to listen to. Even on their last album, The Night, we have, ”So many ways to get a lift, So many ways to get your head unzipped” on “So Many Ways.” Sandman’s lyrics weren’t the only piece of the puzzle but also how he presented them. His vocals, which, again, were deep and rich, are part of Morphine’s appeal. How could you not fall in love with his voice exciting you with each song?
Dana Colley is a gem in the group and he’s the essential member of the group. It’s his haunting saxophone, both tenor and baritone, that add the dark atmosphere to them. Their albums always have this eerie feel to them, but they’re inviting with Colley’s horn in the mix. He’s been there since the beginning of the band only to continue with Vapors of Morphine, the band once Sandman past away. Colley’s talent isn’t simply to have them stick out amongst the other alternative rockers at the time for only a few tracks; he’s on every single one. The best example of Colley being the best member is on their album “Yes.” He screeches with his saxophone over guitar riffs and energetic drum beats. It’s unlike any of their other previous work, which might make me think this is their finest work.
Morphine is a band that got lost in the bigger names of their time. Bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, and others took the reign during their time, but Morphine is still an amazing band that spawned from the 90’s. Each member is wickedly talented and with every album, they showcased just how versatile they are. Their work is quite remarkable. They formed in Boston, a city I hold near to my heart for all the memories I’ve had in there. Once I got older, I started seeing shows in the city in small venues where up and coming bands came by to fill my soul with joy. If Sandman was alive today, it would be fantastic to experience them live. Their hypnotic, somber atmosphere would surely envelop an audience for a long time.
Note: The following link is to the previously mentioned podcast. Enjoy.