Morphine/At Your Service

At Your Service

Morphine was an alternative rock group formed by Mark Sandman and Dana Colley in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, in 1989. The band ceased to be in 1999 after frontman Mark Sandman died of a heart attack while performing onstage.

Morphine combined blues and jazz elements with more traditional rock arrangements, giving the band a very unusual sound. Sandman’s distinctive singing was described as a “deep, laid-back croon,”[1] and his songwriting featured a prominent beat influence. When asked by reporters to describe their music, the band created the label “low rock”. One critical appraisal suggests that “Morphine immediately established a minimalist, low-end sound that could have easily become a gimmick: a ‘power trio‘ not built around the sound of an electric guitar. Instead, with sly intelligence, Morphine expanded its offbeat vocabulary on each album.”[2]

Although Morphine was critically lauded throughout their career, it is difficult to measure their success commercially. In the United States the band was embraced and promoted by the indie rock community, including public and college radio stations and MTV‘s 120 Minutes (which the band once guest-hosted), but received little support from commercial rock radio and other music television programs. This limited their mainstream exposure and success in their home country, while internationally they enjoyed mainstream success and support, especially in Belgium, France and Australia.

Singer Mark Sandman coined the phrase “low rock” to describe the sonorous, languid groove he created with the acclaimed Boston band Morphine. This 34 song, two-disc collection contains all previously unissued studio tracks, alternate takes, and live performances, and takes its name from the line Sandman used to kick off most shows, “We are Morphine at your service.” The music spans the group’s entire career and features founding members Sandman (two-string slide bass, vocals),Dana Colley (saxophone), original drummer Jerome Deupree, and his successor, Billy Conway.

Disc One: Shadows

At Your Service—-Beginning with a live cut and the trademark introduction, the band is truly loved by the crowd. the enthusiasm is contagious……

Come Over—-With an almost Rock-A-Billy sound, the band has successfully incorporated strings and standing bass into their repertoire with little problem. This is an Alt-Blues fest as the band jams on and enjoys long jamming musical interludes. This is nice!

Come Along—-The intro to this track is really nice…the drum track reminds me of Mani and the deep bass immediately finds a place in my memory. I could do without all of the horns……the vocal seems pushed to the back of the mix, but it works well with the groove and jammy nature of the band.

It’s Not Like That Anymore—-Again with the long drum intro and the excessive horns…this was not what i expected when I picked it up…it may take me a while to really appreciate this. The band has an almost too eclectic feel for me…the horns and the bass blues groove all sounds the same to me.

Patience [Alternate Version]—-This is really great…playing like a huge Alt-Country song with heavy 60’s overtones, the song is gentle and full of simple guitars and drums…thanks for leaving the horns at home…at least most of them. This is almost brilliant!!!

Call Back—-Again, this reeks too much of the down south blues to really appeal to me…I like the vocal, but all the saxophone and standing bass…this all sounds like on long tedious song.

Bye Bye Johnny—-Gosh….not knowing what I was getting myself into when I started this review, I will stick it out to the end…but this really is not my cup of tea…I really do not like the heavy blues lean on every single song. Expect my comments to be brief…..

Hello Baby—-This really wears on me…this is tedious and hard work to set through some of this stuff. This song has a manipulated blues vocal and you even hear sounds like record scratches running through the song. This really is not my type of music…sorry to the fans of you that love this band….not for me…see what I get for going and exploring.

Women R Dogs—-This, from the onset is a little bit more mainstream…until the huge Tower Of Power horns begin to play and ruin the whole thing. The vocal really, really reminds me of The Doors…the main saving grace of the song…nice.

You’re An Artist [Alternate Version]—-Still reeking of the Delta Blues sound, I have been moving through this rather quickly…there are few songs on this compilation that really appeals to me…I like the muted and sarcastic vocal/lyrics on this track. Other than that, I could do without it.

5:09—-With a rather nice bass line and minimal horns, this song is almost fun for me…the vocal s muted and lazy…the drums are smooth and seamless…I like this until the horns really kick in.

Lilah II—-The lead bass line on this sounds remarkably familiar to me…but I can’t quite place it. The gentle horns are more acceptable and the vocal is again lazy and fun to listen to…this is not bad….that is a very familiar horn line.

Moons Of Jupiter—-This is noisier and more erratic and borders on mania for me. I really do not ike this….I just feel the hairs all leaning the wrong way when I hear stuff like this….next…please…..

Lunch In Hell—-This is better…delivered with an element of darkness that appeals to me. I like the gentle sax that plays in the backdrop…the bongos are masterful and give the song a very accessible feel. This is much better for me…more like this please.

Imaginary Song—-Jumping right back into the jazz influenced sound with horns and snares, this song manages to be remarkably fun with some nice 80’s overtones to me…think of a drugged out Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Not bad!!!

Shadow [I Know You Part V]—-This really reminds me of more subtle Lou Reed…the horns and snares are really low-key and the overall tone of the song is relaxed and serene. I love this….not a bad way to end this side…..

Disc Two: Shade

Good [Live]—-This is nice….the live form of the band seems a bit more lazy and not as sonic as some of the annoying recorded blues that it produced. There is a certain feeling in the air that reeks of relaxation and an easy Summer groove that I really like…better for me.

Only One [Live]—-This comes across as really ska influenced and determined to work against the grain of my preferences….the vocal is delivered in a great style…lazy and relaxed that falls into the musical groove really well. overall…this is irritating to me.

Shoot ‘Em Down [Live]—-No….no thank you at all….this is too erratic and jam based to appeal to me…the reasons I do not like The Dead or Dave Matthews or Phish or Ekoostic Hookah…….not my style!!!

Saddest Song [Live]—-Love the bass line on this song….the lack of horns please me a great deal and the vocal again borders on a Morrison style that really works…hard to tell that this is live…no audience noise or interaction, but this is at least something I can take, love and move on with.

Claire [Live]—-Ugh…..not my cup of tea again….the sax is too heavy and the guitars are absent altogether. Sometimes this reminds me of the more experimental sounds of Henry Rollins.

I Had My Chance [Alternate Version]—-I like this…..with a slight resemblance to a long ago vocal by Glenn Danzig, this could have fit on any of his records if you through in a little evil in the process. This is nice…I love the laid back and lazy feel.

Buena [Alternate Version]—-This is nice, but leans a little too hard on the blues side for me once again…this review has really been a chore for me!!!

Empty Box [Alternate Version]—-This is odd…but I surprisingly like this vocal narrative set to music. The pace is jam heavy and you can only imagine what is going on with this sort of jam live…this is deep, dark and sexy. I like this!!!

All Wrong [Alternate Version]—-This is so Mark Ronson inspired I almost expect to hear Amy start to sing…this is irritating to me, but the only intermittent horns are in favor with me. I like this, but only as an occasional listen.

Put It Down [Live]—-Now this, I like. Even with the ever-present saxophone playing, the remarkable thing for me about the song is the damn pleasant bass line that fills up the song and dictates its progression and sound. this is really nice….

Free Love [Live]—-This is a little too down and dirty blues for my taste…I really don’t like this…the whole texture of the song is chaotic and free based for me…where is the structure and the direction?

Sexy Baby Christmas Mine [Live]—-No….No…..No!!!!

Scratch [Live]—-There is really heavy sax on this track, but the pace of the song is faster and the construction appears more practised. This could be Beck on any given release….this is stellar…love this.

Super Sex [Live]—-The drums on this track are super fantastic…the guitar actually shows up and drives the song…despite the heavy jazz overtones, this appeals to me. This is fun.

Radar [Live]—-Although this has a really nice pace to it and the vocal again makes me think of Glenn Danzig again, the horns are too present and the drum high hats get on my nerves…next….

I’d Catch You—-This is Sunday Brunch jazz heavy…really nothing about this makes me respond in a positive fashion…this is just not my kind of band…so much for investigation and surprises.

The Night [Alternate Version]—-This is really nice…the slow and seductive quality of the sax is really nice as are the sexy drums. The vocal is on reverb and only adds to the sweet and seductive qualities of the song….this is nice..I could reach for this from time to time…what a great chill-out song.

Take Me With You [Alternate Version]—-Ugh…, no, no……the very onset of the song almost makes me fast forward the disc…the the vocal enters and sways my mind and I continue to listen…it gets in you and feel compelled to listen for awhile…nice…I like this.

Shade [I Know You Part IV]—-This is nice…the vocal is manipulated and put in the very front of the mix…the horns have become so irritating to me, they pound like hammers in the front of my brain…lessons learned.

** out of 5


One Response to “Morphine/At Your Service”

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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