Over the weekend, I revealed how music suggesting algorithms have never, ever worked for me. Believe me, I tried. But when I saw how Pandora fumbled with this song, I gave up on streaming music algorithms entirely.
Morphine was anachronistic in their time, layering crooning vocals, slide bass and baritone sax into velvet smoke while bands like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Foo Fighters were shooting adrenaline into the heart of new rock. Discovering Morphine's music was like finding the one relaxed room at an overcrowded, sweaty house party.
But Pandora doesn't operate on emotional vibes. Words like mellow and bassy don't translate into algorithm. So after hearing this song on an honest-to-god juke box in my favourite little bar in Scranton (and hurriedly IDing it with my smartphone like a dweeb), I was flummoxed the next day by what the streaming service considered to be related music.
Basically, in the algorithm's mind, this is lounge music. So new-wavey trip-hop electronica that also calls itself "lounge music" must be a close cousin, right?
Wrong, algorithm. Wrong wrong wrong.
Look, I dig Massive Attack. But the theme from House, M.D. has about as much in common with Morphine as a broken leg does with lupus. Yet my increasingly-dusty Pandora "Morphine" station keeps trying to convince me that they're really exactly alike.
Commercially, Morphine seems to have baffled record buyers in much the same way. The band's five albums were well received by indie outlets and college radio, but Morphine never really catapulted into the mainstream. When singer and bassist Mark Sandman died in 1999, the band fell apart.
Maybe there's something poetic in all of this misunderstanding. Truth be told, I prefer listening to music like this away from the prying eyes of an algorithm. (Yes, I'm being unfair to streaming services, and yes, I have unrealistically specific expectations of them, and yes, I am sorta humblebragging about my music tastes right now. You can leave this page as easily as you came here, partner.) The band, and the low, Las Vegas desert sound they created, exist in a particular era when music was blossoming in a dozen new directions, but we didn't have today's gadgets to explore it all instantaneously.
This song is the antidote to music ADD, that anxious feeling that we have to keep constantly discovering new songs because we have the digital tools to do so. Put another way, it's the perfect song for slinking into a dark bar, ordering up a glass of something fierce, and leaving your phone in your jacket pocket. Particularly if you're in Scranton.