“This is the most complete thing I’ve ever done”, says Johnny Marr. “There are no songs I’m not sure about. And for me as a listener, it’s made up of entirely the music I like, and have liked.”
Call The Comet is his third solo album. Recorded over nine months in his new studio and HQ just outside Manchester, it’s a vivid, immersive, brilliantly evocative record, which develops the music explored on its two predecessors – 2013’s The Messenger, and Playland, released in 2014 – and adds a new emphasis on atmosphere and drama. In response to our confused, fretful times, many of its songs look to ideas of an alternative society and utopian futures, while retaining an all-important openness and sense of mystery. Most obviously, the album is also full of the pre-requisites of compelling music, which Marr understands as a matter of instinct.
“Everybody who knows about rock music knows who I am,” he says. “They know what my values are. So they don’t need my songs to be any kind of exposition. They want good riffs, and good singing, and good guitar music.”
The album was initially worked on in the slipstream of “Set The Boy Free”, the autobiography published in 2016, whose writing demanded a year-long immersion in Marr’s past. “I felt like I’d literally written all the chapters of my life and career up to that point,” he says. “It felt like, ‘I’ve told my story – what I have I got to say now?’ The past had been dealt with. Baggage had been dropped off, packed and sent away.”
“I also felt that my solo career has got its own steam, and it can stand or fall on what it is in itself. So I felt free. And I was intrigued myself about what I was going to come up with. It was, ‘What are my ideas about, looking forward?’”
The answer began to materialize in the autumn of 2016, when Marr did a series of book talks in the USA. He arrived in New York two days after Donald Trump had won the Presidency – and in his hotel, he wrote the lines that would eventually open the album, on a song titled Rise: “Now here they come/It’s the dawn of the dogs/ They hound, they howl/Never let up.”
Not many musicians create songs like this. And by the same token, only Johnny Marr could have made an album that combines the fundamentals of great music with such imagination and substance. Such is the singular magic of Call The Comet.
John Harris, April 2018