10. Morphine, Yes
Morphine were on their third album with Yes, and they’d previously been just successful enough on the left end of the dial that I had a working familiarity with them and their music. So I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me an extremely long time to figure out they were something of a descendent from the late-eighties bluesy rock band Treat Her Right, creators of one of the great sorta-hits of the era: “I Think She Likes Me.” In my defense, information about bands was fairly difficult to come by at that point in time, especially for those that weren’t likely to be beneficiaries of major essays in the Rolling Stone. The prosecution would undoubtedly counter that Mark Sandman is the lead singer of both groups and his deep, soulful, velvety vocals are incredibly distinctive, even unmistakable, and the case against me would slam shut mere moments after it was opened.
Yes was probably the closest Morphine ever came to a true commercial breakthrough. Undoubtedly due in part to the raucous single “Honey White,” a track which opens the album with a decisive statement of careening excitement, this album became their first to make inroads on the Billboard album chart, although never reaching high enough to escape triple-digits. Fittingly, the song gives a pretty good idea of what Morphine has to offer: sly vocals, shifty rhythms, unexpected reserves of energy, and horns blasting through it like a rushing river. There weren’t enough expectations out there for Morphine to defy, but they plainly made music with according to their own loping pulses. Though Yes is full of grooves, it never really settles into a single one. It’s all zags and zigs and then more zags for good measure.
The slinky “Whisper” (“Don’t worry I’m not lookin’ at you/ Gorgeous and dressed in blue”) recalls some of the old Treat Her Right material, but adds a smoky, jazzy undercurrent that makes the song all the more sensual. At times, the music can be so laid back that the songs barely register, as with the title cut and “All Your Way.” I’ll instead take the slightly ironic excess of “Super Sex” any day (which pulls off same of the same tricks Beck was spinning at the time), or even “Sharks,” with its oddball beat poetry sharing a revolving door with unhinged quasi-swing. None of that is meant to imply that Morphine couldn’t create something wonderful when they slowed the pace. The album has no finer track to offer than closer “Gone for Good,” a ballad of resignation that is tender, mournful, and heartbreaking in all the right ways (“Never gonna walk up your walk and ring your bell/ And feel you fall into my arms”).
Following Yes, Morphine signed a major label deal with the newly formed DreamWorks, the part of the supergroup media company that meant to showcase David Geffen’s expertise. They released two more studio albums before tragedy befell the band. In July of 1999, not long after completing work on the album The Night, Sandman collapsed onstage during a concert in Italy, felled by a heart attack. He died that night, at the age of forty-six. Naturally, there was no way for the band to go on, although the surviving members have played in a couple offshoots that explicitly acknowledge their history, including the still ongoing Vapors of Morphine.
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever
— 35-33: Taking the World by Donkey, One Hot Minute, and Dog Eared Dream
— 32 and 31: Straight Freak Ticket and Besides
— 30-28: Sixteen Stone, Big Dumb Face Shoe Guy, and Cascade
— 27-25: Born to Quit, King, and Hate!
— 24 and 23: Sparkle and Fade and Brown Bag LP
— 22 and 21: University and Pummel
— 20 and 19: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Thread
— 18 and 17: Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and Rainbow Radio
— 16 and 15: Let Your Dim Light Shine and Day For Night
— 14 and 13: Tales from the Punchbowl and Sleepy Eyed
— 12 and 11: Post and Deluxe