Yes (Rykodisc)

By Bob Bahr

The group Morphine gets attention just for their unusual instrumentation: two-string bass, baritone sax and a bare-bones drum kit. The resulting sound is unique, but Morphine busts out of the novelty alternative rock mold through vocalist/bassist Mark Sandman's obscure lyrics, which say nothing and allude to much. The opening cut, "Honey White," is rockabilly seen through a dark, jazzy lens, with lines like, "Honey White made a deal for some angel food. Devil made Honey/She said: You'll get me when I'm old and wizened/And not a day before that/The devil said: Honey it won't be that long/Besides I like to see a little more fat." Film noir comes to underground rock? Morphine is more accessible than that description implies.

For instance, "All Your Way" has a melody in the verses that is as catchy as a Belly tune and a chorus as easy as radio rock. "Super Sex" seems to have predecessors in U2 and INXS songs, mostly due to Sandman's uncharacteristically pop vocal work.

More indicative of the trio's odd approach is "Radar," with its sliding bass movements and honking sax chorus. The music stops twice for Sandman's reverbed vocals to lay out a spoken word section.

A 50s retro feel invades the title track, a bouncing simpleton of a song with low-grade soul in the vocals.

"Whisper" is wonderful, both lyrically and musically. Sandman's low, insinuating singing coos, "Though we haven't spoken still/I sense there's a rapport/So whisper me your number, I'll call you up at home." The object of his affection has a right to be both chilled and aroused.

"The Jury" is farther off the path, with Sandman imagining a juror daydreaming as the verdict is read. The juror's warm fantasies are interspersed with cold legalisms, all to the sound of slightly dissonant bass and sax wanderings. "Sharks" is maybe a weird way of warning the listener about the ruthless people in the world. Music or performance art? Dunno.

Eleven songs into Yes, the listener has encountered the familiar, the unfamiliar and the curious. Then comes "Gone for Good," a broken-hearted ballad featuring just a straight vocal performance and a sweetly picked acoustic guitar. Somehow, it makes sense. Because even in Yes's most sinister moments, there is a nakedness and humanity that makes the album a positive listen.