4 / 10
I’d imagine it would be quite difficult transitioning from being a member of The Smiths, one of the world’s most influential and critically acclaimed bands, to attempting to forge out your own solo career. It is probably not overtly controversial to say that Morrissey has made it look relatively easy. Even through obviously he has not scaled the same heady heights that The Smiths traversed during their short four albums + one compilation album recording career (+ countless repackaging of the same songs), he still has a plethora of classic and recent songs at his disposal. I posit that his solo career is full of so much accomplishment that one is able to attend a Morrissey concert where he only plays a single song by The Smiths (and that song is ‘Meat is Murder’, and it is charmingly accompanied by confronting footage of animals being graphically and cruelly slaughtered), and still leave not the slightest bit disappointed. You may, however, leave slightly less inclined to eat meat.
The same, however, cannot be said for Johnny Marr.
‘Call the Comet’ is merely Marr’s third solo effort (compared to Morrissey having released his eleventh solo album last November), with Marr having primarily acted as a session- musician (as well as occasional member of The Cribs, The Pretenders and Modest Mouse) in the intervening years between 1987 and now. Marr released his first solo album ‘The Messenger’ in 2013 at the tender age of 50. On all of this solo albums, you really get the sense that Marr Is attempting to distance himself from The Smiths in terms of both musical style and lyrical content, so he would probably not appreciate the fact that the first paragraph of this review is all about both of those topics. So, sorry about that.
My first impression of listening to this album through was that considering Marr is one of the most influential guitarists of modern music, the guitar playing and the song-writing are not particularly ground-breaking or interesting. Overall, the songs are at worst boring and generic, and at best, they are mundanely pleasant, with just a few precious moments of brilliance shining through. The album fulfils its boneheaded rock quota with songs such as ‘Hey Angel, and ‘Rise’, which call to mind the weaker moments of the latter stages of Oasis’s career, which is ironic because Bonehead had long since left the band by this point. Sure, Marr’s pentatonic bluesy guitar breaks are nice enough sounding, and he is definitely more than technically proficient, but there is little evidence on display that this is the same man who composed such creative and original masterpieces such as ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others’. Even the pedal tone driven, high voiced guitar work on ‘Bugs’ (a profoundly odd song – sort of like a middle-aged ‘Barbarianism Begins at Home’ where the vitriol has become muted and abstract) seems like a self-consciously toned back version of Marr’s work with the Smiths, as he resorts back to using simple power chord stabs in the verses and choruses.
The album also dips its toe into more experimental, electronic influenced songs, as evidenced by ‘New Dominions’, a slow burner which starts off with just a repetitive urgent synthesised drum loop, slowly building in tension as Marr’s reverb drenched vocals, a simple two note bassline, and atmospheric guitars join the fray. Whilst the contrast between this song and its more straight ahead rock brethren are interesting, it never really provides a reason to justify its existence.
There are some genuinely great moments on this album however. ‘Spiral Cities’ is a song that truly has it all – emotive guitar work, a massive, unexpectedly hooky chorus and a real sense of momentum throughout. ‘Bugs’ grew on me quite a bit after a few listens, and is actually quite a genuinely fun song. ‘A Different Gun’ is also definitely worth a listen, which ends the album on a melodically uplifting note, even if it is somewhat lyrically ambiguous. The best song on the album is without a doubt ‘Hi Hello’, which seems like the only moment where Marr seems to be comfortable in his own skin and is not trying to differentiate himself from his earlier work. Arguably, he is perhaps too comfortable, with the song sounding a lot like a re-write of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, with the string melody in both songs being identical. Still though, talent borrows, genius steals, and you cannot steal from yourself. I say that having completed nearly five years of law school, so trust me on that one.
Overall, it is a reasonably average album, and I found most of it quite boring, aside from the songs that I highlighted above. For the majority of the album, Marr definitely does not seem to be trying to sound like The Smiths. Instead, he sounds like he is sick of being expected to play in his signature guitar style, but still wants to use all of his accrued tricks to sound good. It thus seems to be a bit of a case of Marr wanting to have his cake and eat his guitar, leading in both cases to a relatively unpalatable product.