Friday, September 24, 2010

September 24: Morphine, "Whisper"

Artist: Morphine
Song: "Whisper"
Album: Yes
Year: 1995

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Though there are many challenges within the world of making music, few have proved to be more difficult than being truly original.  To develop and execute a sound that has no direct linage is what can make a band truly legendary, as the performers who have done this are very few and far between.  Taking this into account, when a band attempts to play rock style music, yet makes a point to NOT have a guitar in the group, their sound is certainly going to be unique.  This was precisely the approach taken by the band Morphine, and the resulting music remains some of the most amazing ever recorded, and few bands have been able to convey moods comparable to those found on nearly every one of their songs.  Pulling elements of jazz, blues, funk, and even heavy metal, there is simply no other band that even sounds remotely similar to Morphine, as the band was able to take any tempo, any musical theme, or any mood and spin their unique sound around it, proving that rock music could be played masterfully without the traditional instrumentation.  Releasing four brilliant records before the tragic passing of frontman Mark Sandman, they achieved musical perfection in the form of their 1995 masterpiece, Yes.  Filled with deep, dark melodies and the bands' distinctive sound, there are few songs that more accurately represent the amazing musical approach of Morphine than their 1995 song, "Whisper."

The song begins with a smooth, slow, swaying sound that is put into place by a breathtaking, yet simple bassline from Sandman, and it is this element that often served as the trademark sound of Morphine's music.  This murky swing is strangely sensual, and it immediately pulls the listener into the song, enveloping them in a mood that perfectly reflects the bands' name.  Drummer Billy Conway backs it with a rather jazzy rhythm, again keeping things simple, and using his ride cymbal in magnificent fashion.  This sequence repeats for a majority of the song, as the one element that sets Morphine far apart from their peers, the saxophone of Dana Colley, seems to almost be playing a response to each of the vocals.  There are also brief piano pieces from Sandman that sit far back in the mix, yet complete the amazing depth found on "Whisper."  Instead of a guitar solo, Colley takes off on a stunning sax solo, and he seems to be purposefully over-blowing, yet the resulting sound is the epitome of Morphine's extraordinary musical approach.  With the phenomenal level of musicianship by the trio, it is clear that they are all in sync with one another, and this leads to the amazing mood, as they manage to get deeper and deeper into the thick, almost desperate feeling, and few songs of any era or genre can even remotely compare to the extraordinary musical work found on "Whisper."

While one cannot overstate the brilliance of the musical arrangement, Morphine's music simply would not be the same without the distinctive vocal sound and style of Mark Sandman.  With one of the most deep, yet completely raw voices ever recorded, Sandman's vocals are just as mesmerizing as the music, and the combination of the two is what makes the music of Morphine so fantastic.  Often sounding strangely detached from the music, Sandman had a truly poetic vocal approach, understanding that it was often where the vocals were NOT being sung that made them perfect.  Furthering this poetic sound, his lyrics were often more stream-of-consciousness than anything else, yet on songs like "Whisper," one can see his amazing ability to pen simple, yet beautiful phrases.  Capturing true intimacy in a way unlike any other lyricist in history, there is an uncomplicated beauty when Sandman sings, "...when there's nothing more I'd like to do than come in close and hear you laugh..."  It is these more subtle sentiments that make "Whisper" such a uniquely sensual song, and the words perfectly reflect the songs' title.  The combination of the music and Mark Sandman's fantastic vocals give the song a mood unlike anything else, and the listener can easily find themselves in a smokey, quiet club, and the words can just as easily been delivered to a stranger as they could to an old love.  The way in which the words can be adapted to many situations, and the soft, almost sultry sound the band achieves pushes "Whisper" to nothing short of musical perfection.

Though "Whisper" has many elements of jazz and funk within it, the song is able to keep a rock feel for the entire time, and the fact that Morphine achieves this without a guitar serves as a testament to their amazing musical vision.  Proving that there is something to be said or simplicity and subtlety, throughout their entire career, Morphine showed an uncanny ability to work more delicate arrangements into breathtaking musical masterpieces that were far beyond the work of any of their peers.  The basslines that Mark Sandman deployed over the years remain some of the finest of his generation, and the fact that all three members of the band were able to contribute to the superb moods found on each of their songs serves as a testament to the unmatched level of musicianship within the trio.  Though it lacked the indie-pop appeal of their previous album, the band made a truly perfect record in the form of 1995's Yes, and every song on it serves a purpose, making the combined sound a true musical gem.  Representing everything that makes Morphine such a special band, "Whisper" displays their unparalleled sound and style, and there are few songs in the bands' catalog that share a similar depth and mood.  From the stunning saxophone to the perfect rhythmic groove to the almost seductive vocals, there is simply no other song worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Morphine's 1995 masterpiece, "Whisper."

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