Elder Rock Statesman and Guitar Genius Johnny Marr is releasing his third solo album on June 15th. “Call the Comet” is the follow up to 2014’s cracking “Playland”. It may have taken Marr a decade or two to shake the seemingly all-encompassing shadow cast by his membership in The Smiths, but Marr with each passing solo release clearly and emphatically emerges from that shadow into the spotlight. “Call the Comet” finds Marr crafting a conceptual album that sprinkles recognizable Smith sonics with new and exciting forays into divergent musical sensibilities.
Every Alternative music aficionado knows Marr’s impact on the genre. His legacy has not only stemmed from his being a founder of The Smiths, where he was the songwriting yin to lead singer Morrissey’s yang but the amazing list of other bands he has contributed to throughout his musical career. In 2013 Marr finally jumped in the deep end of the pool by released his first solo effort, The Messenger. This recording would be Eurocentric in many of its themes dealing with issues facing the continent. It was also a reminiscence, look back at Marr’s musical coming of age. The recording would reach #10 on the UK Album chart and gain significant critical praise. 2014 would see Marr’s prolific songwriting activity manifest itself on Playland a reaction to the political and social maelstrom occurring in the UK. Playland would debut at #9 on the UK charts driven by the wry single Easy Money. With each of these albums, Marr seemed to become more and more confident in his vocal and frontman abilities. On Call the Comet he takes all that experience and provides an alluring concept piece set in the not too far off future. Marr still imbues his political beliefs into the venture but has stated he did not want to make an overtly, political, preachy record. He looked to avoid taking on the Trump ascendency because he felt the situation was beneath his notice and didn’t want his creativity tainted. Instead, Marr aimed for channelling his defiance into hope for a better future.
On Call the Comet more than on either of Marr’s two prior solo recordings, he utilizes updated but recognizable Smith’s sonics. He ingeniously harkens back to beloved Smith’s songs making what could seem hackney fresh. On the opening track Rise the first chiming notes not only welcome back his fans to his next instalment but bring back a flood of recognition for longtime Smiths fans. This spiralling track is loaded with allure and opulence. Marr’s vocals are continuing to demand attention as he speaks to the demoralizing wave of adversity the world faces and the dangers of us vs. them mentality. He insists that our destiny is something better than what we currently have. The track is loaded with uplift as it recognizes the barriers that keep us from a better world.
The next track is Marr’s favourite on the release. The Tracers is a breathlessly energetic rocker loaded with Marr’s glorious guitar. There is found in the selection of a nuanced balance of pop catchiness and cinematic imagery supported by galloping percussion. I loved the lush feel that reminds me of Marr’s Electronic manifestation. Hey Angel is glam stomp outing that displays a master craftsman at work. As the album transpires time and again the guitar work simply stuns and this track is loaded with cranking guitar work which will make this song simply massive when played live.
If you ever loved The Smiths Hi, Hello will totally bowl you over. This track erases any doubts about Marr’s significant contributions to the said group. Found within the song are fantastic imagery, lyrical beauty and a transcendent aching melancholy all delivered in a heartfelt manner. Hi, Hello is Marr’s update on There is a Light That Never Goes Out. Noir Electronica fills New Dominions which is a departure from the usual Marr sonic. The track is a distillation of Marr’s hegira through various bands over the decades as he uses various musical influences to create the song. Its theme is attempting to make a new world and the track is proof that Marr never gets stuck in his legendary past. This becomes even more evident with Day in Day Out which is loaded with outrageously great guitars evincing he does not fear to utilize his sonic palettes from the past to make something new and striking. Old-timers will immediately identify pieces of Bigmouth Strikes Again and Headmaster Ritual inspiring the venture, and how uncanny the line “Now is forever, now is an old rerun” becomes.
Walk into the Sea is for me the supreme highlight of the outing. The evocative piano intro morphs into a vivid guitar riff. The song succeeds in blending the earnest feeling of the lyrics with cinematic drama providing untold impact. Bug is the one obvious political selection on the album. Marr presents the imagery of the poison of recent political downturns being released into the bloodstream of society and its consequences. The lyric “sick and shaking population of the world on edge” emphasizing the dangers of our age. The track is going to be mad when performed live.
Actor Attractor displays Marr again departing from the norm this time taking Kraut Rock and Psychedelica and blending them aptly to convey his vision of a dream society. This is exemplified in the lyric “Forever we can live to the limit, forever we can give to the limit.” On Actor Attractor the opening notes are impressive and are followed up once again with spectacular guitar work. Spiral Cities transports the listener back to Marr’s debut solo The Messenger and more specifically New Town Velocity. The track is a mid-tempo rocker that speaks to life in an urban environment. The narrator of the song takes a journey through the chaos of urban life and looks to improve the surroundings. The song draws its inspiration from Manchester and underlines Marr’s guitar virtuosity in a soaring and expansive manner.
The final track is where Marr really challenges himself. The thematic origins of A Different Gun stem from the Manchester Terrorism attack in 2017. The song is Marr’s attempt to capture the collective shock of the event. Taking on such a delicate topic could have turned turtle very quickly. Marr however aptly handles the inherent danger of getting too maudlin or accusations of being exploitive, by providing a balance between acknowledging the tragedy and encouraging hope for the future. He emphasizes the need to come together in the face of tragedy as the ultimate goal. The gripping song brings a brilliant album to a close suggesting that our current situation can be altered and there is still hope for a better outcome.
Call the Comet showcases Marr’s guitar brilliance. That alone is justification to give the release consideration. Marr is ultimately a realist who is attempting to dream up a better tomorrow without obsessing over current adversity or the past. With the latest release, he has again outdone himself. Marr has long existed on a level beyond the need to answer to anyone, yet he continues to provide approachable and alluring albums that grow more and more impressive with each listens. Johnny Marr is a fearless guitar mastermind who has forgotten more about crafting a song then most artists will ever know. On each solo outing, Marr ups his game and justifies the respect he is held in by fans and critics. Call the Comet is his best effort so far. I can’t wait for the next instalment.