February 28, 2000 12:00 PM

Morphine (DreamWorks)

Album of the week

With his sleepy, hipster’s drawl, Mark Sandman sounds like a Beat poet declaiming to a dreamy, jazz-funk beat on this, his avant-garde pop trio’s fifth and final studio album. Recorded last spring in his Cambridge, Mass., home studio, The Night was already in the can (as was their still-unreleased live CD) on July 3, 1999, when tragedy struck. While performing with the band at the Giardini del Principe outside Rome, Sandman, 46, suffered a heart attack and collapsed dead onstage, to the horror of all present.

The Night, Morphine’s most accessible album, displays Sandman at his creative peak. Augmenting the trio’s signature bass-saxophone-drums lineup with organ, strings, guitar and piano, Sandman contributes slide bass and keyboards. He sets his imagery-rich lyrics to jazz-kissed grooves, swinging from dance-party songs (“Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer”) and bass-driven funk workouts (“A Good Woman Is Hard to Find”) to eerily lush sonic experiments (“Like a Mirror,” “Rope on Fire”). On the title song, Sandman seems to address a dark muse without foreboding. “I hope you’re waiting for me,” he sings, “across your carpet of stars.”

Bottom Line: Grace note to a great run

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