So, here’s the thing. Morphine was one of the best bands to come out of Boston in the 90’s. You can argue the point, and you can be wrong. Formed in 1989 by Mark Sandman, Dana Colley and Jerome Deupree, Morphine combined blues and jazz elements with more traditional rock arrangements, giving the band an unusual sound. Sandman sang distinctively in a “deep, laid-back croon”, and his songwriting featured a prominent beat influence. The band themselves coined the label “low rock” to describe their music, which involved “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, Morphine expanded its offbeat vocabulary on each album.”
The band enjoyed positive critical appraisal, but met with mixed results commercially. In the United States the band was embraced and promoted by the indie rock community, including public and college radio stations (WFNX anyone?) 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 support in their home country, while internationally they enjoyed high-profile success, especially in Belgium, Russia, Portugal, France and Australia.
For this episode, we take a listen to their 1993 album Cure For Pain. The tracks “Sheila” and “In Spite of Me” were prominently featured on the soundtrack of the 1994 independent film Spanking the Monkey. The video for “Thursday” also appeared on an episode of Beavis and Butt-head. The track “Buena” also appears in the first season of The Sopranos and in the Daria episode “The Teachings of Don Jake”. In 2014, the album placed eighth on the Alternative Nation site’s “Top 10 Underrated ’90s Alternative Rock Albums” list. It also contains one of my personal top 5 songs of all time, “Cure For Pain.”
Sadly, on July 3, 1999, Sandman collapsed on the stage of the Nel Nome Del Rock festival at the Giardini del Principe in Palestrina, Italy, outside of Rome. He was soon pronounced dead of a heart attack and Morphine immediately disbanded.
WBUR has an excellent article about the impact of this seminal album that you can find here. The surviving members of Morphine joined up with singer/guitarist Jeremy Lyons to form Vapors of Morphine. The band continues to perform Morphine’s body of work as well as originals. Definitely worth checking out!