This aptly named album by Boston band Morphine was, sadly, to be their last, a lullaby for the twentieth century, released posthumously after Mark Sandman’s heart attack on stage. It’s definitely one of my favorite albums of all time – it refines and completes Morphine’s formula to perfection and it’s both a boon and a damn shame that they ended their career on this note. To my knowledge this is the only Morphine album where the band incorporated some other instruments besides the original drums, sax and bass, and yet this opening is so subtle and so amazingly well-dosed that it really does nothing but enhance the effect their music had always managed to create. One thing about this band – there’s no bad album in their career. None. But The Night… this one stands out.
Morphine doesn’t sound like any other band. When asked what genre they play, Mark Sandman – bass player and singer – invented the term “low rock”, which really hits the nail on the head and, as far as I know, is a genre only Morphine knew how to explore (recently I’ve come across the Norwegian band Madrugada who have a strong kinship with Morphine, so I’m currently in the process of reevaluating this standpoint). The rock solid drum and bass lines provide a lush, thick backdrop upon which the saxophone(s) and Mark’s smooth, sleepy voice run circles around each-other, draw spirals, leave marks like a hand across velvet.
Sandman had a talent for naming things. I can’t think of a better name than Morphine to embody this sound – the sickly-sweet tiredness and abandon that seeps into the mind and the joints as their music unfolds like a feline, like an optical illusion, like staring into a fire, joined with the painful undercurrent rumbling just below the smooth, cool surface of things, and the hallucination lurking just around the corner. It’s music for dim lights and for blurring lines, I’ll say that much, although it’s music I’ve used to keep nightmares at bay many times as well – the night can be a crowded place, and The Night is just the cure for that.
Very recently I heard Björk say that she’d always wanted to make bass lines perform like gravity. I thought that was a very poetic thing to say and it gave me a thrill to hear her say it about her new album. Now I realize that this phrase perfectly describes Sandman’s bass work on this album. He used to heavily modify his instruments – for example during his activity with Morphine he used only two strings on his bass, which he played mainly with a slide. This is part of the nebulous, dream-like quality of the band’s sound, but The Night is when he really took it to a different level. His work here is so visceral, so profound that it really does feel like gravity. It’s no wonder he would refer to the sound of the band as something that “hits the body in a peculiar way that some people like a lot.” No kidding, Sandman. However, the real genius is that the lyrics, the voice, the mood set you up in such a way that you feel weightless to begin with and only then does the bass gravity start weaving itself around you, as if to teach you what the meaning of mass might be, as if to train you, slowly, as if you were born in space and were learning to walk on land again.
Mark Sandman, Dana Colley and Billy Conway created something unique, something which has become so personal and so close to my heart that talking about it is no longer just a question of music, it’s a question of identity. Morphine changed the way I think about not only music, but about those things which can be musical – words, patterns, colors, time, sex… So, tonight it’s time for The Night. Agreed?