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Morphine | The Best of... (Rykodisc)
Believe it or not, there was a time when Morphine were considered one of the hippest things on the rock roadmap.  A Boston rock trio with a twist - i.e. no guitars - the three-pronged attack of the late Mark Sandman (vocals, 2-string slide-bass), Dana Colley (saxophone) and Billy Conway (drums) scored the affection of harping old musos and adventurous indie-rock fans alike.  And lest we forget Colley's 'two-sax-one-mouth' trick that had Jools Holland drooling over his over-tinkled ivories on one memorable British TV performance.  However, Morphine's unique selling points also became sticking points after the unit shifting 'Cure For Pain' (1993) and 'Yes' (1995).  In short, the ficklest factions of the music industry couldn't quite cope with a band that stuck so stoically to their guns (or in Morphine's case, customised instruments) whilst signing to a major label (Dreamworks in the States).  Which is a bitter shame, because although Morphine did essentially make the same album five times over, there's something to be said for stubborn consistency flying in the face of fashion.  An assessment that's backed-up with this well-conceived retrospective, which collates the cream of the band's urban crop from each studio album (along with a few fan-enticing rarities).  
For better or worse, it's remarkable how so much of this material is seamlessly interchangeable, almost negating any need for the chronological track sequencing.  Thus, the prowling Have A Lucky Day (from 1991's debut long-player 'Good') could conceivably have sat next to the suggestive tones of Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer on 2000's 'The Night' (the band's last album, recorded before, but released after, Sandman's untimely passing).  It also becomes abundantly clear that Sandman's status as a frontman, is hugely underrated.  Sure, his affected baritone was essentially the by-product of Bill Janovitz's emotive growl and Evan Dando's hard-drugs, but it worked incredibly well within the context of the band's flights of filmic noir and sleazy city sickness.  Sandman clearly had an ear for a story too, helping him to pen strangely vivid and poetic songs about Boston's seedy nightlife with a tantalising mixture of affection and revulsion.  But the finest Morphine moments relied on the trio locking themselves into tight guttural grooves, best emphasised with the lurching You Speak My Language (from 'Good') and the hectic, clattering Eleven O'Clock (from 1997's overlooked Dreamworks debut 'Like Swimming').  Shockingly good, cruelly forgotten about, Morphine's musical stock has grown wealthier with age.  Start the rediscovery process here.

Adrian Pannett
March-April 2003