Sadly, we can add Mark Sandman to that list of rock musicians who we lost in their primes. The throaty voice that was one of several elements that made the shady jazz-rock trio, Morphine, so unique was forever silenced when Mr. Sandman died of an unexpected heart attack in June of 1999. Shortly before his death, however, his band recorded some of their most exceptional work.
Like David Bowie's Low or The Doors' Strange Days, Morphine's final album, The Night, has a short, simple title that completely sums-up the disc's atmosphere. The Night is quintessential three AM music. Gloomy, slinky, devious and suave, these songs sound as if they were written specifically for a misty, mysterious night in New York City or Chicago. It is a sound that Morphine had been exploring ever since their formation in 1992. The band's instrumentation of Billy Conway's tightly-trimmed drumming, Dana Colley's wavy saxophone and Mr. Sandman's murky, two-string, slide bass, along with his deep, brooding voice and detached, downhearted lyrics have always echoed with full moons, lost souls and ambiguous intensions.
The Night improves upon everything Morphine has ever done. "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer" is the capstone of their series of off-beat party tunes, defeating even their previous album's "Early to Bed" and "A Good Woman Is Hard to Find" is another superb addition to that cannon. "I'm Yours, You're Mine" and "The Way We Met" are Mr. Sandman's most interesting attempts to straighten out complicated relationships, even better than "Claire" and "Candy." The title track and "Take Me With You" are his best all-out odes to desperation, beating even "Cure for Pain," possibly the band's best song before the release of The Night. This is the sound of a band that had their style down to a science and was apt to do even better at what they do best. Sadly, we will not be hearing any new developments in this exceptional band, so sadly halted at its peak.