"Ladies and gentlemen, we are Morphine, at your service."
Mark Sandman, lead singer of Morphine, used to open many an electrifying show by uttering that simple sentence. And that philosophy also applied to their albums. Yes, Morphine was a band that was willing to take risks, but for the most part, you were more than willing to go along for the ride because the rhythm section would always provide an instantly appealing, driving beat.
Get ready for a left turn. The Night marks the first Morphine studio album where the listener is going to be tested. With the exception of a couple of songs, there are no rhythms that instantly grab you. Instead, they are there, but buried in a forest of violas, interesting percussion arrangements a tri-tar and horse-hair piano.
With The Night, Morphine opens up the recording studio to more guests than the latest Santana album. Former Morphine drummer Jerome Deupree plays on most of the tracks, but still doesn't overshadow Dilly Conway's drum work. Sometimes, the arrangements get too cluttered, but the willingness to take their band's music to the next level more than forgives Sandman's ambitious reach.
Of course, it's next to impossible to think of The Night as Sandman's last realized musical statement. And songs like "I'm Yours, You're Mine" and "A Good Woman Is Hard To Find" show Morphine more in the experimental arena of their B-Sides And Otherwise compilation album than Yes or Cure For Pain. Sandman's husky, dark baritone voice moves in close for a whisper on "Rope On Fire" but then seems like its filtered through a noise box in "So Many Ways."
You want the accessible Morphine? It's here. "Souvenir," "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer" and the beautiful "Rope On Fire" pull Morphine back to their lethal triple threat of baritone sax, bass and drums. But for the other eight tracks, expect to do some combing for a catchy riff.
If you liked Morphine more for their free-flowing prose, than The Night may turn out to be your favorite album from the group. Imagery decoractes the album with lines like, "The sky is filled with question marks, will the chains come apart," and the "french fries with pepper" number/word play of "Slow Numbers." One thing The Night confirms in its first listen: no matter where Sandman wanted the group to go, poetry wouldn't be far behind.
Dana Colley, a saxophonist so bad-ass that he usually plays two at a time onstage, surfaces throughout parts of The Night, but for a good amount of time, he is almost buried by the percussion. Still, "So Many Ways" automatically ranks up near his "best five" saxophone solos on any Morphine album. He is definitely there throughout the album, but it's his most restrained effort to date.
Fans disappointed with The Night will have to wait next year for the next Morphine release: a live album. Other, more willing fans are in for a challenge. The Night is a rewarding listen, but unlike their masterworks, Yes and Cure For Pain, the result isn't instantly addicting. Throw The Night in a five-disc changer with the rest of Morphine's colleciton and you can see the evolution. Sandman wanted to stretch the band's capabilities for The Night. While his loss still leaves a great void, The Night gives a fitting coda to an artist who was able to balance the need to entertain his devout audience while not pandering to them.