In recent years, Run Out Groove has garnered a stellar reputation for its vinyl reissues of rarities from the Warner Music Archive. The label has pressed up everything from lost soul music and jazz, to experimental rock, pop, and folk. Most of their reissues boast previously unreleased rarities or hard-to-find tracks. In the last few months, the label has delivered expanded versions of more recent albums that have long been out of print on vinyl. Morphine’s Yes is one of those lost vinyl titles – a unique collection of ’90s rock/blues/jazz/experimental music that has been given an update with refreshed artwork, sonic upgrades, and a beautiful pressing. The Second Disc was able to give the reissue a listen and we’re happy to share our thoughts!
Morphine was a power trio hailing from Cambridge, Massachusetts that formed in 1989. In the decades since their founding, they have been acclaimed as one of the most unique and and unusual rock bands of the ’90s alternative rock scene, and their album Yes – recently reissued by Run Out Groove as part of the label’s Cornerstones Series dedicated to landmark LPs- stands as a testament to their distinctive style. ROG has previously issued the band’s Live at the Warfield 1997.
While most groups were still tethered to the conventional configuration of vocals, electric guitars, drums, and keys, Morphine offered something new. Their focus wasn’t on electric guitar, but on bass. And bassist Mark Sandman wasn’t a conventional player. His instrument of choice was a specially constructed, two-string bass guitar that he often played with a slide. Meanwhile, Dana Colley deployed a distinctive, growling baritone sax, and Billy Conway laying the groove on drums. The combination of blues, rock, and jazz influences, plus a dose of the experimental, led to significant critical acclaim but not much chart action Stateside (they were much more successful abroad). Yes was their first album to chart on the Billboard 200, where it reached No. 101 shortly after its 1995 release on Rykodisc. In the years since, Yes has fallen out of print on vinyl but Run Out Groove has brought it back from the depths of the Warner Music Archive with a special, 2-LP reissue that also boasts an album’s worth of studio and live bonus cuts.
Morphine’s Yes kicks off with the jaunty “Honey White,” a blues-rocker propelled by layers of saxophone and slide bass. It sets the mood for the first side: catchy, riff-based fare, boasting interesting musical blends and memorable lyrics. “Scratch” is slightly softer, with Sandman’s slide bass weaving through the verses. His vocals float above the backing, telling the story of a man who was “once sitting on top of the world,” but when “something went wrong, I’m not sure what,” the narrator was “put down in [his] proper place.” And so, he resolves to “start over from scratch.”
“Radar” is a more foreboding track, with distorted vocals and a catchy, minor-based riff. Its nearly spoken-word delivery and sudden breakdown two-thirds in point to the more far-out musical tropes that await on Side Two. But first, the mysterious, noir-ish “Whisper.” Its seductive delivery and multilayered production really shine on Run Out Groove’s pressing, with each element clear and defined. Both “All Your Way,” meanwhile, is a bit more upbeat, hook-after-hook earworm. That pop sensibility permeates much of the album, but Side Two presents much heavier fare.
While the first six tracks on Yes sometimes recall the rockabilly of the ’50s, with uncluttered arrangements, clear and direct lyrics, and the ever-present raspy baritone, the balance is far more adventurous. For example, “The Jury” is an atmospheric, spoken word piece about prison and the legal system with an eerie backing built from wah-wah’d bass, spacey effects, and floating saxophone.
“I Had My Chance” is a brooding track about lost love with a chant-like repeated refrain – “And if I ever have myself another chance like that I’m gonna grab it and I won’t look back” – delivered with a Jim Morrison-like intensity. “Sharks,” meanwhile, is a rollicking and frenzied workout that again features Mark Sandman’s matter-of-fact spoken words that recall Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air.” Whereas Anderson portrayed a captain addressing the passengers aboard a crashing aircraft, Sandman’s distorted directives warn beachgoers of sharks, urging them to ignore the day-glo orange life-preservers and swim to shore as fast as they’re able. “Free Love” may be the heaviest of all the tracks, a slow and sludgy freakout with Sandman warning listeners: “Free love? Don’t bank on it baby…” After a side of foreboding and heavy fare, Yes closes with a guitar ballad that laments a lost love. Its intimate production – fingerpicked acoustic and up-front and raw vocals – is unlike anything else on the album.
Twenty-five years on, it’s to see why Morphine’s concoction of musical influences may have been embraced more readily abroad than in the States. In a landscape that included grunge and corporate rock, Morphine’s was a delectably odd musical blend that defied categorization. At times, Yes recalls the rockabilly of the ’50s, other times, it’s full-blown avant garde. No matter the categorization, Yes remains an intriguing collection of songs that are in equal parts reflective of the past yet forward-moving at the same time.
For this reissue as part of the Cornerstones Series, Run Out Groove has combined the original 12 songs from the album proper with a bonus disc of rare and previously unreleased live cuts and session outtakes. Among them are “Pulled Over the Car,” a humorous circular narrative about a driver who can’t has to stop at the shoulder to avoid sleeping at the wheel. The track was originally released on the Japanese edition of the album. The reissue also includes several rarities, like the catchy “Come Along” that features impressive instrumental passages, a longer version of “Radar,” and an alternate mix of “Super Sex.” The out-there “Sundayafternoon” and “Birthday Cake,” both culled from the “Super Sex” single, also feature.
The second side of the bonus album puts the spotlight on Morphine’s live act with four previously unreleased tracks recorded in concert, culled from Dana Colley’s personal archives. Of the four cuts, “Share/Free Love” is particularly hard-hitting. The medley is presented as a lengthy jam with an extended spoken word section. Elsewhere, there’s a heavy “Whisper,” as well as “Have a Lucky Day” (originally released on their debut, Good) and “Thursday” (originally from their sophomore effort, Cure for Pain.) The performances provide an different perspective on the band, with performances that are even more raw than the album cuts.
All the music sounds great on Run Out Groove’s version. The team has gone back to the original master tapes for the first time ever and cut the lacquers at Sam Philips Recording Studio. The 180-gram discs were pressed at Record Industry and are dead quiet. They’re housed in an impressive, heavy-stock, tip-on gatefold sleeve that was printed at Stoughton. The packaging features rare photos, memorabilia, and new gatefold artwork by Dana Colley.
The objective of Run Out Groove’s Cornerstones series is to revisit albums that the label feels should be part of every listener’s collection, and the label has certainly made a strong case with this reissue of Morphine’s Yes. The sometimes overlooked album is given the five-star treatment, with a sonic upgrade and beautiful visual presentation that is fit for any audiophile’s record library. Yes is pressed in a limited edition of 3,500 copies. ROG titles can be purchased from anywhere fine vinyl is sold, including: Music Direct, Soundstage Direct, Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc, and Bull Moose.