Back in the mists of time, sometime around 1994, I was gifted a second-hand t shirt (sleeves cut off, obviously). On the front was a cartoon dog and a cat with a baseball bat, in neon pink writing the band logo of some obscure, local glam band who had long since split up. That band were called Sister Morphine and on the back of that very same t shirt was the immortal phrase ‘SUCK MY JUBE!’. To this day I still have no idea what that means, and until recently what Sister Morphine actually sounded like, but I loved that t shirt and wore it to death. Turns out the singer of that very same band would be my boss/editor/sender of cool music during my time as a reviewer for the legendary Uber Rock website.

South Wales based Sister Morphine were regulars on the club circuit back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, supporting the likes of Last Of The Teenage Idols and Gunfire Dance. But sadly, the stars didn’t align and the band went their separate ways. Who would’ve guessed that Gaz Tidey, guitarists Jamesy & Jonesy, bassist Mike DeSouza and drummer Denley Slade would get the band back together during lockdown and record the debut album that they threatened to make back in those halcyon days of hairspray, fags and thunderbird wine.

So, while you and I were baking banana bread, drinking beer at 10am and watching Tiger King on Netflix, Sister Morphine were scouring their lofts for lost rehearsal tapes, to find the best versions of their beloved songs from a lifetime ago, to see if they really could resurrect Sister Morphine from the graveyard of empty bottles and claim their rightful place as the kings of Glunk Rock 2023!

But why should you care about lost songs recorded by a bunch of 50-somethings, written a lifetime ago? Well, it turns out Sister Morphine can knock out a few tunes, and bloody good ones at that! I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the first single and title track ‘Ghosts Of Heartbreak City’. Who knew Mr. Tidey had such a sleazy vocal delivery that would stand up after all these years. With a voice that sits somewhere between Ricky Warwick and Zodiac Mindwarp, he takes the catchy melody by the scruff of the neck, over a tune that could be an AI generated mash up of The Dogs D’amour and The Quireboys. It’s a 70’s glam rock boogie of a tune and the perfect introduction to the party going on down at Heartbreak City!

Recorded at RedRock studios in Blackwood and produced by Lyndon Price of Welsh metal legends Wild Pussy, ‘Ghosts Of Heartbreak City’ is a 15-song blast of high-octane rock n’ roll that features regulars from their live sets, lost tracks from the archives and four brand new songs for you to devour.

Opener ‘Holy City Zoo’ has already been likened to Motorhead by those in the know, and references Bowie, Duran and Roxy Music. It’s a 2 minute & 22 second statement of intent, job done.

You want punky, low slung rock n’ roll with more attitude than Rocky on steroids? Then look no further than second track ‘Do You Wanna Get Wasted?’. Now that’s a song title any angst-filled youth of today can get on board with, right?  Good job it sounds like Zodiac Mindwarp jamming with Backyard Babies and Johnny Thunders then, innit!

The Scandinavian punk rock vibes continue on the likes of second single ‘Nothing Dirty In The Truth’ where the rousing verses and killer chorus showcase a band who really mean it. Elsewhere, ‘Black Hearts & Bruised Egos’ channels Circus Of Power and early Alice Cooper garage rock vibes to great effect.

What’s not to like here? I’m loving this album. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, or maybe I’m biased, but I’ll tell you one thing for certain, Sister Morphine have some killer tunes going on.

Lifting a page out of Tyla’s songbook, ‘Cry The Rain’ is a big tune about love gone bad, set to a Faces-lite rock n’ roll boogie, with some rousing backing vocals. Sava a place in your heart for this one. The hook-laden ‘8 Tracks & Zodiacs’ is another of the new songs, and a potential single for sure. A song about a girl, it has catchy 90’s brit rock vibes that sit well and is a serious earworm.

The strengths of this album lie in the songwriting, the diversity and the production. It’s all pretty high-octane stuff, but they do throw in a curve ball towards the end with the countrified blues of ‘Living With Snakes’. Acoustics, slide guitar and harmonica go a long way to show Sister Morphine ain’t one trick ponies. 

While ‘Ghosts Of Heartbreak City’ has one foot planted firmly in the past, it brings a classic sound smack up to date for 2023 with a great production. Full of rock n’ roll nostalgia and clever tongue-in-cheek lyricism, we get sleazy punk rock, 70’s boogie rock and countrified goodness all wrapped up in one cool little package.

If Sister Morphine’s only ambition was to realize their dream of releasing a debut album that could stand tall with the artists of their era, then they have easily succeeded. But I feel they have surpassed those ambitions by taking the music to places their teenage selves could never imagine. ‘Ghosts Of Heartbreak City’ is a pretty unique album, in that it has been recorded by a bunch of 50 somethings, yet it has the energy and sonics of a band half their age. And you know what? I’ll be happy to file that shiny new CD in the rack, somewhere between Shotgun Messiah and Skid Row, where it should have sat for the last 30 years.

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Author: Ben Hughes