Marr's Magic Realism

By Paul Rigg

Johnny Marr released Call The Comet on June 1, his third and most self-assured solo outing following The Messenger (2013) and Playland (2014).  
In many ways, lyrically, it is a reaction to Trump’s election, Brexit and other recent events such as the Manchester bombing, and is reportedly based on him imagining a better world in the future (‘my magic realism’ Marr calls it). But the real strong point of this album is Marr’s capacity to draw on the incredible mix of influences he has revelled in since the break-up of The Smiths with Electronic, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, The The and Bryan Ferry among them.  
Yes, you will hear Marr’s famous jangly guitar on this album but you’ll also hear techno, glam rock, pianos, Kraut rock and cinematic type scores courtesy, one presumes, of having spent time working with Hans Zimmer. "This is the most complete thing I've ever done," he says.  

The album kicks off with Rise, which mixes synths with Marr’s unique, almost rebellious, style of guitar riff. “Hear the truth!” he sings; he might not get away with that line in a philosophy class but at the start of a new album that is about to break new ground it strikes a confident statement of intent.

This leads into The Tracers, which melds a catchy pop hook with big screen type sound effects, and is reportedly one of Marr’s favourite tracks on the album. 


Glam-influenced Hey Angel has a lovely rock anthem feel to it (and many will love the distortion and heavy reverb) while
Hi Hello inevitably recalls The Smiths; and Marr himself has explicitly acknowledged that the melody riffs off There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. On the video to Hi Hello Marr can be seen playing his beautiful 12 string black 1966 Gibson 335, while on the videos to tracks like Actor Attractor and Spiral Cities he can be seeing playing his own model Fender Jaguar. These are possibly all winks to the past on an album that is full of them.

The album then seems to take a more experimental turn, with Walk Into The Sea, New Dominions and the funky Actor Attractor all rewarding listeners with surprises, and confirming Marr as an artist who is still driven to innovate. And if you are wondering whether he allows himself any guitar solos, the answer can be found, for example, on Hey Angel and Day in Day Out.   

The album closes with A Different Gun, which is partly about the Nice lorry attack and the Manchester Arena bombing. Marr’s response is life-affirming, as he sings ‘come out tonight’, which are the words that Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew reportedly said to him the night of the bombing. It is an emotional, sensitive, and fittingly powerful end to the album.

Marr may not have Morrissey’s voice or lyrics but his former bandmate has ‘left a space’ for many because of his more offbeat political comments, and Marr has stepped up to fill it. His now weighty musical heritage, gorgeous guitar melodies and willingness to experiment all mark him out as an innovative and unique musical force. It will be fascinating to see where his ‘magical realism’ will take him - and us - next…