Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Morphine 5: The Night

At the risk of sounding crass, the prize for most “rock ‘n roll” death goes to a man who actually died onstage. Morphine was playing a show in Italy, when Mark Sandman collapsed from cardiac arrest mid-song and never recovered. Besides putting an end to his band, it colored the reception of what would be their already-completed album.
At a whopping 50 minutes, The Night is the longest album in their catalog. While based, as ever, around that voices and those saxes, new (for them) instruments are heard throughout the album, more than before. Three songs even have female backup singers.
Lilah, namechecked on Like Swimming, appears to be the muse on the title track, which mixes Sandman’s own piano and Jane Scarpantoni’s cello for a rainy lament. A Tom Waits-style rumba with organ underpins the riveting “So Many Ways”, and piano takes over for “Souvenir”, with less tension and more familiar sounds. They get positively funky (again, for them) on “Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer”, the organ provided by John Medeski. Lilah is pushed aside for one Martha Lee on “Like A Mirror”, which has a great couplet buried under a robotic beat. “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find” fades in, almost as if it were caught mid-performance, and is another contender for a mainstream hit.
“Rope On Fire” has a distinct Mideastern feel, with flavored strings and percussion; it could almost pass for adult contemporary world music, and that’s meant in a good way. The only percussion heard on “I’m Yours, You’re Mine” is a high-hat, unless there’s another beat buried in there somewhere, giving the song a ticking tension that threatens to explode with the organ and synth but doesn’t. Drums are all we hear on “The Way We Met”, which deserves a better backing. “Slow Numbers” is clever, recalling the mood, music and feel of the Rykodisc albums. The effect of somber Celtic fiddles dominates “Take Me With You”, which repeats the title enough to sound like an epitaph. The backing vocals sound tacked on, and that’s a shame.
It’s a bigger shame that The Night is the last Morphine album, and it’s not the first time a band’s promise was cut short. Not all of the tracks sound finished, begging the moot question: Was the released product his vision preserved, or an interpretation thereof?

Morphine The Night (2000)—3

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