Remember the 1950s? I certainly don't.
I wasn't born until 1985, yet I am somewhat educated on the counter-cultures of the time period that were in the form of the beats. I can also tell you one thing, as well. If I was living back then and Morphine was transported from the 1990s to that scene, the sound would fit perfectly into this time period. When listening to their bluesy and jazzy indie rock sound on their second album, Cure for Pain, you can picture a dive bar, with Jack Kerouac sitting next to you and William Burroughs on the other side. Naturally, these cool cats are puffing away on cigars and drinking heavily.
The sound of a lounge is achieved by a number of points. First, it's singer Mark Sandman's Cheshire cat voice -- so relaxed, yet also ice cold. Next, it's his two-string slide bass (note that Morphine rarely uses a guitar), giving the music an extra sense of baritone iciness. Then, speaking of this baritone sound, the music is augmented by Dana Colley's baritone-saxophone, thus giving the music an extra dimension of groove.
While the lyrics are often simple, they sometimes have great images as well. A line on "All Wrong" tells of a woman's "black hair like raven's crawling all over her shoulders, all the way down." It's this strewn-about sense of beat poetry that adds to Cure for Pain's flavor.
The great songs are mostly in the first third of the album, as it does get less appealing as it goes along, but never truly deteriorates. "Buena" is the first song aside from the intro, and it starts with a bass that slides nice into a held back but perfectly placed drum bash, and then to the Sandman's voice that comes crisp and in plain hearing. Then, at just under the halfway point of the song, the vocals stop to let the saxophone kick in with those instruments that have been following the same sound the whole time to create a hip-swinging dance-jerk.
"I'm Free Now" has another lyric that goes, "I'm free now to direct a movie, sing a song, or write a book about yours truly / How I'm so interesting, I'm so great / But I'm really just a fuck-up and it's such a waste." Pure badass brilliance, I tell you. Brilliant! While Cure for Pain dishes out other greatly classy, subtle and moodier tracks, like the fine suicidal love song, "Candy," and the hopeful title track, a tender 'n' soft tale about drug abuse. "Thursday" is another humdinger about infidelity that has both a sense of menace and mystique in the lyrics amiss its driving beats.
Cure for Pain never exactly missteps, as it just merely has songs not as good as the previous ones mentioned; the last four songs feel like less successful copies of those songs that came before it, but again, about half of these songs are or are very close to being classics.
Now, although Morphine would go on to do a couple more albums, tragedy would strike when Sandman died of heart failure while on stage in Italy. He was only a mere 47-years-old at the time.
With warmest regards, Mr. Sandman, we miss you.