Listful Thinking: Top 5 Morphine Songs

The best from a unique band whose run ended prematurely...
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u·nique: yo͞oˈnēk/ adjective 1. being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.

A puppy is kicked every time someone modifies the word "unique." It's a binary state, like pregnancy (not that I have much experience). You either are or you aren't. Morphine is and it's only one of the many reasons I cherish this band.

There are many ways a band could hope to achieve the noirish, nocturnal, narcotic sound that is Morphine but I've never heard a band take this approach. Who forms a rock band and says, "Yeah, we're not going to have any guitars"? Mark Sandman did. He started with his low-register croon and custom 2-string slide bass and augmented it with tenor saxophone and a swinging drum kit. There is a fourth element at play in the magic of the music of Morphine. Silence. There is so much space in the best of their songs that one must listen carefully to the silence and the absence of extravagance.

"Buena" - This is the first Morphine song I ever heard and I was instantly hooked by sinister grit and rumble of Sandman's bass and the swagger in his vocal. Classic jazz men with big enough ears still wouldn't call this jazz but they couldn't help but recognize the same cool that fuels a classic era is evident in the notes and spaces in this one.

"Scratch" - This song works primarily because it's built on such a great groove. I love the swing of the saxophone, the slide of the bass, and the drumming. Sandman's vocal is detached and yet he's defiant in the wake of heartbreak. Sandman sounds much cooler and is a lot more convincing than I feel, so he's given me something to aim for.

"Cure For Pain" - A band named after an opiate is still seeking antidote rather than numbness. This song feels like that medicine, going down easy and smooth. The saxophone soars almost as much as it growls and Sandman sings with a lightness not often present in his vocal.

"I Know You, Part 2" - I wanted to cheat and add the five-song suite spread across the different albums but I'll live by my own rules. I would have, for years, selected the harder groove of Part 3 from Like Swimming, a song that dominated my listening for a time in college but this more ambient installment is the best of the bunch. The muted sounds and vocals give this a seductive sophistication.

"Honey White" - Morphine goes metal! Okay, not exactly but this one rocks a little harder and plays a little faster than much of the band's canon. The saxophone sprints and shrieks to a driving beat and strutting vocal. It hits hard and has a rare overdubbed harmony vocal in the chorus.