Review Summary: Morphine slithers their way into your ears with a sexy, swaggering confidence in their 1992 debut.
Humming lights. An engine cuts out. Crisp evening air blows your hair back as the doorman slips you inside - where the whiskey flows and the inhibitions dare not make themselves known. And she's standing there. A beautiful stranger. The air, thick with grumbling saxophone, sends electrochemical shivers down your spine as the thrumming bass lock your feet to the floor.
You know what it's about the moment you lock eyes. Then lips. She tastes like bourbon and American spirits. She slips under your skin like Morphine in your veins. Yes: this is 'Good.'
And 'Good' is just that. A 1992 rock record that, despite falling short of proper cult classic status, has carved out its own place in the underground rock canon. It has enough of a reputation to give it an intimidating allure - although this is more a product of it's strictly-adhered-to aesthetic than it is any mysterious compositional machinations. It is equally otherworldly and familiar. Like a temporary lover, passing through your life like a ship in the night: it is tight, satisfying, and never overstays its welcome.
The album consists of a 37 minute barrage of jazz flavored alternative rock - dynamic in its delivery and distinctly alluring in its aesthetic. Limited to a three man outfit, Morphine has a gift for tight, accessible, and appealing songcraft. Here it is centered around a fixed aesthetic of nighttime encounters and lust. From the start, Mark Sandman's slow, throaty crooning float over pulsing downtempo basslines and smoldering saxophone, like a stormfront building on an evening sky.
You are first disarmed on "Claire," where Sandman's suggestive serenade creeps into your head with the subtle, suggestive warmth of flushing red cheeks. The percussion stomps forward with an instinctual certainty that calls to mind those moments when your body takes over, your mind cuts out, and instinct carries that beautiful stranger deep into your arms. The stormfront is building, and on the hypnotic "Have A Lucky Day" you are kept at the cusp: delirious, intoxicated, and tightly wound in anticipation.
Rarely do you encounter an album that dedicates itself to an aesthetic as adamantly as 'Good.' The pounding percussion and thumping velveteen bass lock in with the wily saxophone songcraft with a satisfying snap: like promiscuous puzzle pieces floating in your mind. The delivery is dynamic, confident, and crisp. Although the album's explicit sexuality occasionally comes across as ham fisted and shallow (by modern conventions) the band never places its tongue in its cheek. They play it straight, through and through.
And that really is for the best, because this album is at its most effective, its most engaging, and its most primal when the band fully indulges in these pseudo-sexual impulses. Once you are lulled into the high of anticipation you are met with a crash of lightning on "You Speak My Language:" a powerful rocking banger propelled forward by pounding drums, ferocious brass, and scat spitting vocals that ruminate on the remarkable beauty of connecting with someone who is the exact same brand of crazy as you. And as the thunder fades, excitement gives way to lust in "You Look Like Rain," a quiet, smoldering, downtempo jazz standard that is lyrically playful but deadly serious in its implications:
"I wanna know what you've got to say,"
"I can tell you taste like the sky,"
"Cause you look like rain."
An album about sexuality is hardly a novel concept now, even if it may have been 29 years ago, but in it, Morphine found success early on simply because they lean into the concept with a singular focus and precision. As such, this album is surprisingly simple to dissect, despite its reputation. Because it is extremely forthright in what it is, who it is for, and what it is trying to accomplish:
It's about sex. It looks like sex, it sounds like sex, and it tries it damnedest to feel like it, too.
It is pure, aural arousal. The soundtrack of our synapses at times when lust dominates all thoughts - somehow captured on vinyl, like lightning in a bottle. And yet...sex and love are two very different things, and this album only manages to explore the former, without a hint of the latter. Like so many one-off lovers that pop in and out of our lives, 'Good' is not necessarily a deep well to draw from. Intoxicating, but shallow. Satisfying, but not nourishing. This is where the album falls short: it is a strong debut that knows exactly what it is going for, and as a result, never reaches beyond that bar it sets for itself.
Don't be mistaken: this is a well-executed album. A heady, swaggering, charismatic ode to lust that speaks to the hormone monsters inside of us all. But with just three members, brief track lengths, and a general lack of broader narrative ambition or substance, "Good" is just that: it's good.