Morphine's music, which connects with listeners on a very physical level, is so simple it's amazing no one's done it before. Using exclusively low-register instruments, Mark Sandman's two-string bass and baritone voice, and Dana Colley's bass and baritone saxophones, the band's songs actually reverberate in the chest, treating listeners to a low-impact massage. And anything that feels this good can't be bad.
But Morphine's blessing--that distinctive low rock sound--is also their curse. Not only do they bind themselves to an instantly recognizable sound, but they also limit themselves in their arrangements: Voice and sax can each hit only one note at a time (though Colley sometimes manages to honk two saxes at once), while the bass can manage a two-note interval at best. It's hard being dynamic using only three or four sounds.
So where does that leave Like Swimming, Morphine's fourth album (and first since signing on with the big boys at DreamWorks)? Pretty much where the band started, it seems--with a blessing and a curse. As with past records, Like Swimming is easy to appreciate, full of loping bass lines and slithery sax riffs that strut through jazzy rock numbers like "Wishing Well" and "Empty Box." But while newcomers may be happy with the band's warm swing, others will pine for the first time they heard the band's earlier breakthrough on Cure For Pain. Only with the album closer "Swing It Low" (a title that could be a band manifesto) does Morphine hint at changes to come: With guitar, keyboards, programmed drums, and no saxophone, the song (first released as a Sandman solo project) proves it possible to capture Morphine's noir moods in midrange as well. --Roni Sarig