Song 201: Morphine, “All Your Way” (1995)

Morphine-Yes-Frontal

I wish I had been more aware of the Boston music scene when I lived here in the nineties, because some amazing things were going on. The Pixies were finishing up their run as the city’s undersung heroes, Throwing Muses was taking a victory lap, and Letters to Cleo were cranking out power pop for the rock crowd. And then there was Morphine.

Unlike the rest of those bands, I saw Morphine in concert. The internet tells me that it was the summer of 1997, a the H.O.R.D.E. Festival (a lineup that also included Beck and Ben Folds Five). I remember them being relentless: playing the hell out of everything, to the extent that, at one point in the show, Dana Colley played two saxophones at once.

I feel lucky to have seen Morphine two years before frontman Mark Sandman died. They were a truly special band, and not only because of their unique lineup (which, famously, did not include a guitar). Their sound–all low end, with Sandman’s smooth croon on top–made their melodies and lyrics stand out. Their most well-known songs, such as “Buena” and “Honey White,” were boisterous and ferocious, but many of their finest moments found Morphine lurking in corners, ready to pounce.

A few years ago, I revisited the excellent Yes for a review on Tiny Mix Tapes. I was surprised to realize that my favorite song wasn’t “Honey White” but a song I didn’t remember called “All Your Way.” It’s a quiet, unassuming song, one as pretty as it is sinister. I love the lyrics, which seem to be about a stubborn woman who’s giving the narrator trouble but is actually about how stubborn a man he is.

Morphine existed for ten productive years, but I’d love to know what the band could have accomplished if Sandman hadn’t died. They were capable of great beauty, and there was surely more beauty lurking in a corner, ready to pounce.

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