Review Summary: The "other" songs of a band who could do no wrong. There are cases that some of these should have been featured on the band's 5 main LPs, indeed on this b-side collection the music does all the talking.
It's been awhile since the last Morphine review, and since I'm sure there are a couple (lot) of you who are unfamiliar with the band, here is a mini recap: Morphine were a band from Boston who replaced the traditional bass with a 2 string slide bass (Mark Sandman), replaced guitar with saxophone (Dana Colley), and while keeping the role of drummer (Billy Conway) intact, the band would make this original sound which even them being the originators of, made it come out in so many ways to accent so many moods. Late night in the city? There is a tune for that. Relaxing on a Sunday? Tune for that too. Whichever way you put it, Morphine should have been a huge band, but despite never reaching the well deserved big-time; they played like they did, and this CD captures two live traditional tracks and other previously unreleased cuts.
This collection of forgotten and unmentioned tracks begins with two of the band's better known numbers, except these are live versions of the songs. We kick off with Have a Lucky Day
which was originally on the 1992 debut, Good
. The bass and sax lead us to a waiting percussion instrument that settles in the back of the musical stage and is quite comfortable there. Then the lyrics set in, and right from the beginning you can tell the narrative qualities and storytelling abilities become clear as the air as we venture for one day inside Mark's brain as he tells us about a man who can't leave the blackjack table soon enough. "Now I'm down a little in fact I'm down a lot/I'm on a roller coaster ride that I can't stop"
goes the tale of the man who lost it all, but at least the mental picture can be formed on a warmer plateau thanks to Colley's electric sounding sax buzzing through this one. It may not work out if you've heard the original first, but it may be even better. Going onto a different note both musically and tempo-wise, is the next track which appeared on 1993's Cure for Pain
entitled "All Wrong
. With the slowed down beats but still buzzing bass and sax lines within, Sandman's delivery of the vocals are definitely more lighthearted and centered towards expressing his weakness towards a seemingly less harmful subject than gambling, the ladies. " And when she laughs I travel back in time
" he quips, "Something flips the switch and I collapse inside
". Keeping the usual appeal of mixing classy with swanky, this number is a more intimate piece than "Have a Lucky Day
" but since both highlight various qualities of the band, putting them both on here and in consecutive order can be seen as a good call.
Of course this album wouldn't have the title without there being some unreleased unheard songs on here. Here is where the band manages not only to pull away from the rock and roll sounds made by others of the time (or any time), but they even managed to pull away from their own sound! Take for instance Kerouac
, a tribute to the iconic 50's West Coast beatnik/writer/poet; take how the traditional beginnings of bass and sax pounding away at listening ears is replaced with a drum line straight from the hi-hat exclusively to your speaker. The structured lyrics get substituted out for free form poetry which seems like its what the band has been doing as long as they have been together. The base of this song really is just played on the hi-hat and snare and occasional quick strikes to the ride cymbal. the base seems minimal but its all Sandman needs to deliver the words like he is in a trance. " Kerouac/yeah Kerouac/His words the words so many words just/All brothers of the same horn sisters the saxophone
" and on goes the number in its slow beat and expressive glory. Making a song called Kerouac about the man is just so fitting, not only in the sense of doing it in a real old style jazzy way the music is, or remembering the poet by a little poetry of their own, but the band is set up so well to align with Kerouac in a group of figures who did things their own way.
Being taken from a vast amount of other possibly deserving songs would mean that the ones chosen represent the band in a variety of ways by being played in a variety of ways. One of these options is the idea of an instrumental, it has happened on Morphine albums of the past but not yet on this gathering, at least not until Sundayafternoonwieghtlessness
. The song has a decent length (4:51) and gives an opening to Conway with Sandman and Colley taking on the roles of playing backup to him. Not to say that playing background leaves you without room to do solo parts that flow along with his slow roaming drum beat. What happens perfectly is the song being related to the title, it feels indeed that you have become your cat, taking a nap in a sunbeam in your warm but empty house, not a care in the world and the only thought being about how much you deserve this. This instrumental is done right and with being the only one of its kind on here, it also becomes a highlight.
So what is the mark of a truly great band? Many will tell you one has reached their mark when in retrospect they have no marks against them, a hardly criticized discography that may not be widely known, but is listened to, respected, and loved. That is especially true with this album and with all of Morphine, can you truly name one body of work where Mark Sandman's voice was not haunting and skillfully delivered, always adjusting to the situation? Is there a part where Dana Colley picked up the wrong sax or played a stale section? Perhaps Billy Conway grabbed brush drums instead when the band was busy performing a loud and blistering piece. The answer is no, for the most part Morphine seemingly has never done this; and a collection of great b-sides and live tracks prove this band to be perfectly well rounded, and leaves B-Sides and Otherwise
an essential part of any avid Morphine fan's collection. Most of them weren't their signature songs but the limited legacy left behind where the flames of eternal creativity must be lit in effigy and tribute comes full circle on this album. Mark Sandman may have passed away, but the music he helped craft is still deeply appreciated by new and old fans, and there are more everyday. Is this the day that makes you a fan , that inspires you to learn about Morphine's music? Is this the last thing you read before getting your hands on something so genuinely rock and roll, and yet so different? That is up to you.