It was a mix that never was supposed to work. A baritone sax, two-string slide bass, drums. No guitar. In addition, Mark Sandman, lead singer of the Boston trio, Morphine, was in his early 40s and competing in the early-'90s alternative scene; a scene that prided itself with breaking the rules, but was feverishly youth-obsessed, like any era in rock.
But it did work. After working as a cab driver and in a struggling cult band, Treat Her Right, Sandman developed his patent 'low rock' sound with Good. Combining jazzy grooves, beat poetry and a smoky voice, Morphine was one of the few bands in the past 20 years where you could identify within three notes. No other band sounded like them. Still, Good could have very well been a novelty. After all, how can you stretch out that type of sound for more than one album?
A great deal, actually. Cure For Pain, the follow-up to Good was miles ahead of Good in terms of songwriting and musical artistry. Dana Colley's baritone sax expertly weaved in and out of Sandman's distinctive bass playing, all the while drummer Billy Conway (and Jerome Dupree) supplied Morphine's driving beat. In 1993, Cure For Pain was the summer soundtrack for scotch-drinking college students and card-playing Kurt Vonnegut worshippers.
Musically, Cure For Pain almost has too many highlights to mention. You can hear Sandman's confidence in songs like "Buena" and "Mary Won't You Call My Name?" The chemistry of the trio kept red-hot jams like "Thursday" and "All Wrong" from turning into meandering jam sessions. The only blemishes on Cure come from its two low-key ballads: "Candy" and "Sheila."
Still, despite an obvious love for jazz and funk, Sandman was a lyricist first and a musician second. His storytelling focused mainly on romantic loss, longing and regret. And unlike other songwriters in alternative rock, Sandman opted to keep his lyrics fairly simplistic. Anyone looking into how to tell a good story should only have to listen to "Thursday" -- a tale of a dangerous affair, pool and booze -- to learn how to structure delivery.
Cure For Pain was arguably Morphine's most consistent album. Yes may have included Morphine's best songs and The Night was a great detour for the band, but Cure For Pain was the band's most filler-free album. Sadly, Sandman died onstage in Rome in 1999 of a heart attack. For those that followed the band closely, Sandman's loss hurt as much, if not greater than Kurt Cobain's or Tupac's.
In terms of relevance, Cure For Pain never tried to be an "important" album, like In Utero or Siamese Dream. It merely was an exceptionally good album that fit in perfectly during a summer drive with the windows down, or during a 3 a.m. marathon session of spades. Come to think of it, that is pretty goddamn important.