1995: Morphine - Yes

In the ’90s, it wasn’t the strangest thing for a hip band to have horns. It was the heyday of the ska revival, after all, and Cake -- an artsy rock band with trumpet in nearly every song -- was on the charts. But Morphine was different. They had two saxophones, drums, and slide bass guitar. While most bands would have treated this setup as a gimmick, Morphine used their unique instrumentation to make gloomy, dangerous pop music.

Yes was the band's third album, after ’91's Good and ’93's Cure For Pain. By the time of its release, they were poised for a break; college radio and international touring had given them substantial exposure and a strong fan base. But Yes, with its dark corners and ominous imagery, probably wasn’t the mainstream bid their fans had in mind. The album was foreboding, but also offset by fast tempos and catchy melodies.

Lead-off track “Honey White” is as poppy as Morphine gets and became one of the band’s signature songs. It's also quintessential Morphine: singer Mark Sandman’s low voice is layered on top of the even lower bass and saxophones, pounding away furiously. The melody is only a few notes, but paired with Sandman’s lyrics about a deal with the devil, it serves its purpose beautifully.

The rest of the record unfolds more quietly. Second track “Scratch” is as subtle as “Honey White” is abrasive, and a fair representative of Yes as a whole. Sandman’s voice is typically resigned, and his lyrics -- “I lost everything I had/ I’m starting over from scratch” -- are both bleak and funny. This darkness shows up elsewhere on Yes, from the repeated warning “sharks patrol these waters” in “Sharks” to the heartbreaking closer “Gone For Good,” a breakup song that features only Sandman’s hushed vocals and acoustic guitar.

“All Your Way” finds middle ground between the band’s sweet and bitter extremes, resulting in one of their best songs. The lyrics are about love gone wrong -- “I found a woman who's soft but she's also hard/ While I slept she nailed down my heart” -- yet the pretty melody slinks around major chords, and the song’s saxophones sound almost happy. It may be the closest Morphine gets to serenity.

The record’s other highlights -- the punchy “Super Sex,” the madly romantic “Radar” -- don't shake things up too much, but they fill out the album nicely. The only missteps are ones of excess. “The Jury,” with its beat-poetry delivery and dull atmospherics, is a glaring weak spot and, being the ninth track out of twelve, slows the record’s momentum.

But as a whole, Yes perfectly represents what made Morphine great. Underneath the murkiness, the roaring saxophones, and the sinister vocals are songs full of pathos, wit, and perfect melodies. It’s easy to see why Cambridge, Massachusetts named a city square after Mark Sandman. Why the rest of the country didn’t follow suit is anybodies guess.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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