Johnny Marr‘s flowery and kaleidoscopic guitarwork offset against the dour and foreboding musings of Morrissey created that oddly obverse yet symbiotic dynamic that made The Smiths so essential. Who’d ever have imagined that over three decades later, their yin and yang would have moved into the realm of politics?
Moz’s comments about Halal meat, Sadiq Khan’s accent and how Hitler was ‘left wing‘ (not to mention appearing to defend EDL co-founder Tommy Robinson) had more than a few Smiths devotees contemplating tearing up their fan club cards earlier this year. Fortunately, Marr is at hand with a much more liberal message.
“This time around, I had to imagine a society, rather than just report what I see,” Marr told NME of his inspiration behind his third solo record ‘Call The Comet’. “Rather than feeling like it was too bleak as reportage or commentary about what I see outside, it’s kept the psycho-geography of the first two records but I had to reimagine it. I don’t want those fuckers contaminating my creativity.”
Putting ‘the fuckers’ out of mind, Marr doesn’t let the stooges of Brexit and the far right infiltrate his vision of what tomorrow could hold. While there are nods to the past in the music, the tapestry of lyrics and sounds overall look to the future to illuminate what’s lacking in the present.
All in all, it’s a joy to experience. The opulent, bright and breezy opener ‘Rise’ hits you like sunstroke, as a sci-fi rock soundscape backs Marr calling upon the listener to “hear the truth”. Single ‘The Tracers’ is the perfect balance between his knack for pop and the cinematic mastery he’s demonstrated with pal Hans Zimmer, while the glam-stomp of T-Rex and a driving Britpop swagger makes ‘Hey Angel’ a gift of pure rock n’ roll satisfaction.
Marr admitted that Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ helped shape ‘Hi Hello’, but what it borrows from both is that timeless, crystallised, aching melancholy that he has turned into an art form. The dissonant pianos and sombre post-rock guitars of ‘Walk Into The Sea’ makes for one of most experimental peaks of the album, while the electro-noir ‘New Dominions’ sees Marr wonder left-field and conquer new ground once again. Psychedelia meets kraut-rock on ‘Actor Attractor’, punctuating the album with another welcome sonic departure and containing the manifesto of Marr’s dream society as he croons, “Forever we can live to the limit, forever we can give to the limit”.
Spiritually and politically, Morrissey and Marr couldn’t be much further apart. Creatively, Marr is also lightyears ahead. But as usual, to think of his current music within the prism of a comparison to an artist he’s not worked with in over 30 years would be a grave disservice. ‘Call The Comet’ is Marr’s most assured solo effort to date. Rather than wallow in the mire of the now, Marr has dreamt of a better tomorrow. In doing so, he’s built one for himself.