Listen to this track by three-piece “low-rock” innovators from Boston, Morphine. It’s “Cure For Pain”, the title track to their 1993 album of the same name; Cure For Pain, arguably their strongest statement as a musical unit.
There are many examples of rock music innovation during the 1990s. As I’ve mused elsewhere, I really think this decade was an artist’s decade, with many bands empowered to push the boundaries while signed to major labels in the wake of Nirvana’s achievement of selling loads of records while also hanging onto college radio audiences. And, no other band was doing what Morphine was doing.
Everything about them was unconventional, from the instruments they used, to the way those instruments were played, to the musical references that define their sound. And yet their music doesn’t just appeal to some intellectual notion of originality. It socks you in the gut, too.
I think this comes from groundwork they laid which not too many bands decide upon from the get-go; a cultivated group identity. Read more
Here’s a clip of guitarless indie heroes Morphine with their song “The Other Side”. The song is taken from the band’s Good album, their debut in 1992 . The band set out to push the boundaries of doing without conventional rock ingredients and adding a touch of noirish jazz to the mix instead. Their signature sound is that of the night itself; a little hazy, a little threatening, and ultimately very elegant.
During their 10-year recording span, Morphine created something which might be described as the aural equivalent of film noir, but without the obvious trappings. Not bad for a trio made up of a baritone sax, a drum kit, and a two-string bass.
It took time for record labels to take to the group’s sound, based as it was on an approach which allowed a lot of unfilled spaces in the music. The band was attached to a small scene in Boston, where leader and songwriter Mark Sandman had been involved in a number of bands before forming this one.
It was a small Boston indie label Accurate-Distortion that eventually took a chance on how unconventional the group was and put out the album. Eventually , they were picked up by major label Dreamworks, and their definitive album Cure for Painproved them to be an unique draw in the guitar-strewn landscape of 90s indie bands.
When I first heard this particular track “the Other Side”, I was sure I was hearing some lost Jim Morrison collaboration with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. As such, it crosses all kinds of boundaries in terms of style, but also of time as well. Thematically, this is can be added to the list of songs about death which contributes somewhat to how it transcends any specific era. Mark Sandman’s death while onstage in Rome of a heart attack in 1999 at the young age of 46 perhaps increases this song’s mystique. But despite this, we’re all on our way to the other side. The rest is just a question of the scenery we chose to look at on the way.
After his death, the remaining members of Morphine, saxophonist Dana Colley and drummer Billy Conway, along with other friends and family, established the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund, a children’s charity in the Boston area.