If there ever was a band for listening to late at night, drunk and feeling sorry for yourself while reviewing all the wrong choices you've made, it's Morphine. The band's sound is built around singer Mark Sandman's noirish baritone and two-string slide bass, drummer Billy Conway's laid-back strokes, and Dana Colley's bluesy saxophone riffs. The dark mood seems especially appropriate this time out; Morphine leader Mark Sandman suffered a fatal heart attack on stage last July -- after turning in the recording tapes for The Night. It's all too easy to glorify the dead. And plainly, words such as legendary and genius get thrown around way too much in our culture. But it is fair to say that The Night eclipses all of what Morphine has done on its previous four records.
It seemed that the trio had run out of ways to exploit their unique sound on 1997's Like Swimming, which sounded more like treading water. Recorded in Sandman's Boston loft, The Night expands Morphine's sonic palette to include strings, piano, organ, oud (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument), female backing singers, and a second drummer (original drummer Jerome Deupree, who joins Conway). What makes The Night intriguing is that more instruments don't mean that the songs are any denser. Instead each element is used sparingly -- freeing the musicians to explore more marginal territory. The tempos of the record are slow, the rhythms jazzy, and the sonic textures varied. Sandman lets his bleak, sleazy stories unfold dramatically. The Night proves a bittersweet swan song. -- David Simutis