Morphine: Cure for Pain

Rating: 10/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1993
Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock
Label: Rykodisc

1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral

I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!

If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.

Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.

Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.

Miles Davis: Jack Johnson

Rating: 9.5/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Classic
Released: 1971
Specific Genre: Jazz Fusion, Jazz-Rock
Main Genres: Jazz, Rock
Undertones: Avant-Garde Jazz, Blues Rock
Label: Columbia

1 Right Off 2 Yesternow

The outrageous one

Miles Davis’ fusion albums of the late 1960s and early 1970s form something like the cast boy group of progressive jazz: the chilled-out mysterious one (In a Silent Way), the brainy weird one (Bitches Brew), the wild one (Live-Evil), the aggressively sexy one (On the Corner), and now: the one that everybody wants to hang out with – the outrageous one, the fun guy! In a less moronic way to talk about it, it really seems like Davis had a sort of vision for this period and what to do with the fusion style: though similiar, each of these albums represents one perfect stylistic distillation of what fusion could do.

Jack Johnson, then, is obviously and audibly spliced together from several different jam sessions (this is most notable when a short part of In a Silent Way shows up on side B) – but let’s talk about what it sounds like if you have no edition history to consult.

On the side-long first track (which is what this album is all about) a small raunchy combo kicks it right off with a simple blues rock rhythm, a distorted electric guitar attack, a bass finding its bluesy groove and staying with it – did I mix up records in the sleeve again? No, after John McLaughlin’s hilariously primitive riffs cease for some moments, Davis’ piercing trumpet takes over about two minutes in and it’s simply a ride of a totally loose groovy funky unstoppable jazz rock jam from here on, as the trumpet and the guitar exchange improvised solos and duels without giving it a thought. The soloing in the following ten minutes is just brain-melting, Davis screeches, rocks, and lumbers his way through the blues rock like you’ve never heard him. This part ends about twelve minutes in with some short ambient fusion intermezzo but thankfully immediately returns to the same relentless groove, with Steve Grossman’s saxophone and a new trumpet sound, the band continues to groove even swampier and Herbie Hancock is thrown into the mix. Judging from his performance he must have thought something like: „Okay guys, if you’re not taking this seriously, I’m not“ and plays a totally disastrous solo on some heavily distorted, disastrously sounding organ and the result somehow is instant history. With this completed line-up, they tip the rhythm into even dirtier territories, McLaughlin wraps it all up with a razor-toothed shredding guitar fest à la Hendrix and well that’s that.

Side B is more akin to the calmer, more textured and nuanced fusion sound of Silent Way and Brew, and it’s also a very good track, with calm keyboard layers for Davis to float away on, the typical start-stop bass patterns and heavy editing. It’s a generally more pensive, deliberate affair that gets screechier and decidedly cross-grained in the second ten minutes when keyboard, electric guitar and trumpet are constantly fighting for attention. Good stuff.

Either way, with all the splicing done here, the reduced fusion line-up and the improvised feel to it, this is not a „perfectly executed“ album – but who cares, among Davis’ fusion and jazz-rock albums, this stands as an absolutely unique, unrepeatable jam session that might well become your favourite „rock“ record for a while. Indispensable.