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Tournament of Tunes:
Morphine vs. Scruffy the Cat

The Elite Eight of the Tournament of Tunes continues, with the final match of the Jerry Lee Regional:

Morphine – Whisper [RealAudio]
Scruffy the Cat - You Dirty Rat

Each of these wonderful bands passed from existence in its own sad way—Morphine dissolving after its mastermind Mark Sandman died of a heart attack onstage in Rome in 1999, Scruffy the Cat breaking up less suddenly but no less poignantly after years of indifference from their record label. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Sandman’s death and Morphine’s demise were all the more tragic for the intriguing possibilities suggested by The Night, the band’s brilliant final album which they were working on at the time of Sandman’s death. The new directions that Sandman and Morphine might have pursued, as hinted at by that album, are ultimately heartbreaking with the recongition that they will never be realized.

While never earning the critical accolades of Morphine, their Boston brethren, Scruffy the Cat plugged along in amiable and earnest near-obscurity, releasing two LPs and two EPs between 1986 and 1988 before finally calling it quits during the early 1990s. I met the band’s frontman Charlie Chesterman after a Chicago club show in 1989, when he hinted to me that things were not at all well with their record label, Relativity. Though he didn’t get into details, the impression I got was that the band received little support or recognition from the label. I didn’t hear much more about them until several years later, when I heard they had officially broken up. A sad passing of a truly wonderful band—Tiny Days, their first LP, will forever be one of my favorites. But their second LP was clearly the lesser of the two, suggesting that the band wasn’t on a creative upsurge at the time of their demise, and Chesterman’s 1994 solo debut, while enjoyable, didn’t offer anything particularly innovative either.

All of which tells me that maybe Scruffy the Cat just had a few good years, and it was simply their time to go, an impression which I definitely don’t hold for Morphine. Morphine had their best years still ahead of them when Mark Sandman died. This puts Morphine ahead of Scruffy the Cat in my musical pantheon. And while “Whisper” is one of the very best songs Morphine ever created, one which could readily serve as Exhibit A for their sound, “You Dirty Rat” is just a notch or two below the best that Scruffy the Cat was capable of. Morphine, better band, “Whisper”, better song. Scruffy had a nice run, but must now depart.

Winner: Morphine – Whisper

(As always, brackets here, play-by-play here and previous recaps here.)

July 19, 2006 in Music, Music: ToT 06 | Permalink