With this long-awaited box set of rarities, a '90s underground rocker who died en route to musical greatness will finally be immortalized. But the similarities between Kurt Cobain and Mark Sandman end there: The Boston indie music legend took his cues not from Mudhoney and The Pixies but from the jazz of Coltrane and the poetry of Kerouac, and Morphine's sax-and-bass sound earned both a cult following and a number of detractors who labeled the trio a gimmick. Sandman died of an onstage heart attack in Italy in 1999, shortly after he'd answered critics with the ambitious The Night, and that album left fans wondering in what direction Morphine might have continued.
Sandbox comes close to satisfying that curiosity by connecting the dots of his musical past with 31 unreleased songs, but it's by no means a proper introduction for Sandman novices. The first disc, aside from a few kitschy songs, has a surprising number of strong Morphine outtakes. A studio version of live favorite "Goddess" is worth the price of admission, while the soft piano eulogy of "Devil's Boots," the country twinge of "Patience" and the spacey poetry of "Imaginary Song" reveal unseen shades of Morphine that will appease fans. The exclusion of catchy out-of-print B-sides like "Virgin Bride" and "In Your Shoes," however, is unfortunate. Also, most of disc two's pre-Morphine songs are for die-hards only: The tracks included from Treat Her Right, Sandman's first major-label band, pale hugely compared with THR's hit "I Think She Likes Me," and songs from his Hypnosonics era are riddled with lame horn and bass lines. Still, the collection has at least an hour of enjoyable unreleased songs, and the bonus DVD includes rare concert footage, so fans shouldn't fret. But since the set has more experiments than singles, newcomers should start with Morphine's proper albums before jumping in the Sandbox.