ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Marr – Call The Comet

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Johnny Marr has proven himself time and time again. Whether it’s the legacy of The Smiths, his collaborative work with Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and countless other projects, a fascinating autobiography or just his commitment to always moving forward. He’s now three albums deep into his solo career and Call The Comet finds him settling into his most natural and cohesive sound to date, embracing the best of his past and present. 

The least satisfactory moments on his previous two albums were when he used strident sloganeering and a lack of texture in the music. Call The Comet corrects that wonderfully with trademark lush and chiming guitars that resonate across synths, strings and heavily rhythmic landscapes. ‘Hi Hello’ may be the closest he’s veered towards that iconic Smiths sound, the ghosts of some of their most famous songs such as ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, drifting through Marr’s minor chords. It’s the finest solo song he’s released. That band isn’t the only reference point from that era with opener ‘Rise’ recalling Disintegration-era Cure and ‘The Chasers’ hinting at a Sisters Of Mercy influence just below its surface. Marr has talked about the album having a loose theme of Earth welcoming a different intelligence from the cosmos to save us from our own plight and though there’s plenty of turmoil and wringing of hands over world issues, there is ultimately a sense of optimism that humanity can still rise above the discord and conflict and find it’s way. 

Marr’s strong point still remains his guitar playing and compositional abilities. The way his playing can paint in colours and create mood from simple patterns of notes or layered, dense arrangements. Bug takes in a certain kind of funk as filtered through the baggy Manchester scene while ‘Actor Attractor’ channels both Suicide and early New Order. and though the highlights are many, some judicious pruning of its weaker moments would have made for stronger album. Johnny Marr may have influenced generations of musicians but on Call The Comet he’s in turn paying homage to those contemporaries that have shaped his musical life.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Flyying Colours @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (21/07/15)

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Flyying Colours proved to be an excellent choice of support. Energy, texture and dynamics rule their dense shoegaze sound and it sounded satisfyingly full and propulsive as the venue slowly filled. The quartet’s physicality on stage matched that of their songs and though the sound mix wasn’t great they set the scene nicely for the main act.

Amid clouds of dry ice and beneath a backdrop that loudly proclaimed JOHNNY MARR, the diminutive guitarist, songwriter and now singer strode on-stage. Then things went a bit flat. A lack of volume, the sound person still fine-tuning the mix and song choice all played their part as Marr delivered his recent album’s title-track and The Smiths’ ‘Panic’. The latter should’ve brought the house down but something was missing. The slow start soon gathered momentum though and by the mid-set double of ‘New Town Velocity’ and ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ the connection between band and audience was complete. Marr is a curious on-stage mix of a loosely swaggering Keith Richards, glam rock guitar hero poses and pop star mannerisms. He knows how to work the crowd with simple gestures and well-timed quips and beneath a few well aimed barbs at the audience’s lust for Smiths songs over his solo material he seemed to revel in the seminal works of his back catalogue. The defining moment came with “A disco song from Manchester” – a re-working of Electronic’s Getting Away With It’, followed by the melancholic/euphoric sing-along of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. Naturally he returned for an encore and took things into a dark throbbing realm with Depeche Mode’s ‘I Feel You’ and the closing gem of ‘How Soon Is Now’ that reminded everyone why he’s one of the finest guitarists of his generation who continues to write fine songs while still honouring those he built his career on.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Marr – Playland

140721-Johnny-Marr-playland-new-album-coverRating6Johnny Marr certainly hasn’t wasted time with his second solo album. When he toured Australia in January it was the end of touring for The Messenger (2013) and he was hoping to get back into the studio as quickly as possible. With Playland he’s made good on his word, continuing to mine big indie guitar sounds, anthemic vocals and now some electronic undercurrents, with mixed success.

First single Easy Money was a bolt from the gates signalling Marr’s intention to think and play in widescreen mode. With a guitar riff he snuck out the door when he left Modest Mouse it’s a bold, almost glam meets new wave stomp possessing a infectious ear-worm of a chorus. If that had hints of past decades then Dynamo is a deadset candidate for a redux of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack with its synths and Psychedelic Furs meet U2 guitar sound.

It’s always interesting to hear Marr take a songs in new and different directions but the most rewarding tracks here are those that echo his seminal work in The Smiths, in particular This Tension and The Trap. Their chorused six-string jangle and understated approach suit the guitarist more than the maximalist moments that overshadow much of the better song-craft on Playland.

Marr’s singing sounds stronger, with more personality than it has before which will quieten many of his critics but generally Playland suffers from trying to cram too much into its eleven songs, its over-exuberance resulting in a sense of disorientation.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music (Sept ’14)

 

LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Jep & Dep @ OAF, Sydney (07/01/14)

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Jep & Dep were a curious choice as opening act, their alt-country/folk sound quite different to that of the headliner but it worked extremely well. Dep (Darren Cross, ex-Gerling) and Jep (Jessica Cassar) displayed wonderfully balanced vocal harmonies with Cross’ moodier, outlaw country delivery complementing Cassar’s folkier, more ethereal voice. They played their Cave/Kylie take on the latter’s Confide In Me and their originals showed they have real songwriting nous in a genre that often trades in self-parody.

As the OAF curtains parted, the packed venue cheered in expectation as the diminutive and perfectly styled Johnny Marr strode on-stage before launching into his solo album’s opening track. Immediately the songs from The Messenger sounded a step up from their recorded versions with Marr’s voice in particular bristling with confidence. Most of the album was aired with the pop bounce of The Crack Up, the moody title track and the most Smiths sounding song New Town Velocity being particular highlights. Of course the crowd responded most fervently to the half dozen Smiths songs, placed perfectly through the set. Panic had the audience in full voice early on and it felt surreal hearing those opening chords to How Soon Is Now? played by the man who wrote them. Tonight was the last show of a tour that began in February 2012 and Marr looked both visibly sad and overjoyed, thanking band and crew with genuine emotion and vowing that 2014 was the year of living in the moment before bringing the show to a euphoric end with a cover of I Fought the Law, Electronic’s Getting Away With It and a moving There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, the perfect end to the show and tour. This was a man honouring his legacy while still creating in the present. As the t-shirts at the merchandise desk defiantly proclaimed… Johnny Fuckin Marr.

Chris Familton

this review first appeared in The Music

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Marr | The Messenger

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by Chris Familton

square-600-3 Rating6.526 years after departing what many felt were the most important UK band of the 80s Johnny Marr is finally releasing his debut solo album after collaborations with Bernard Sumner, The The, Modest Mouse, The Cribs and others yet The Messenger defiantly signals a return to those original tumbling notes and familiar sparkling chords.

The immediate thing that stands out is the upbeat nature of the record. It struts and postures like all great guitar pop records. There is little trace of maudlin indie strumming yet there are a number of moments where the ghost of The Smiths wink from the past. European Me is a widescreen, grand gestured song built on choppy rhythms and wandering guitar notes. It’s the moment where you try to resist but can’t help wondering what Morrissey’s voice would sound like over the top. Upstarts highlights the influence of Modest Mouse with dissonance added to the guitars as they dance a peppy jig across jagged drums. The excellent title track offers another angle with a wistful disco groove painting a melancholic landscape like a lost Roxy Music track.

Vocally Marr is competent and aware that it is his songwriting and playing that are the main attraction. He wisely uses his voice as another musical tone, a conveyer of words and when it works best it is partially submerged in the music as on the swirling Lockdown. The Messenger hits a second half lull where hooks and nuance give way to some uninspired songs but Marr comes good at the end with the heavily textured nostalgia of New Town Velocity. It has been a long time coming but Marr shows he still has some of the songwriting nous and particularly the magic in his fingertips that caught the imagination of so many a quarter century ago.

this review was first published in The Drum Media / http://www.themusic.com.au

REVIEW: 7 WORLDS COLLIDE – The Sun Came Out

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Reviewed for FasterLouder

7worldsIt is surprising that musicians don’t do this kind of thing more – getting together for the sake of the music, collaborating and sharing the experience of songwriting. One way to do it is the ‘supergroup’ which can either work (Them Crooked Vultures, Temple Of The Dog) or can be a turgid affair (Chickenfoot, Tinted Windows). The model that Neil Finn has developed, where a group of musicians travel to New Zealand with their families and gather to write and record, much like a working holiday.

The Sun Came Out is the second album from the 7 Worlds Collide collective. The first featured Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), members of Radiohead and Johnny Marr (The Smiths). Pretty much a line-up to drool over for indie and rock fans. The new project features many of the same musicians from 2001 plus members of Wilco, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall and Glenn Richards (Augie March). Wilco are often called the ‘American Radiohead’ so to get these chaps together is a fairly monumental musical summit.

As a result of the relaxed beach atmosphere and the extended family vibe of the whole project the songs all flow by breezily, with an americana tinge to many of them. It is effortless pop that drips with melodies and some wonderfully subtle playing.

Jeff Tweedy contributes a couple of tracks, the first being You Never Know from Wilco’s latest album. It is pure Wilco in sound and with the band recording some of their album on the visit it is essentially the same version you hear on that record. His other track What Could Have Been rolls along over a primitive drum machine and is the darker Tweedy, musing on past actions and consequences.

With Neil Finn being the head honcho he appears throughout the album, including the first song written and performed by Finn and wife Sharon. Neil has referred to Little By Little as their amateur version of ESG’s amateur pop funk. The song is a delightful sunny ode to children growing up and finding their own lives and Sharon’s voice suits the song – its not strong but it has a pop melodicism that sits well with Neil’s voice.

Neil’s Learn To Crawl sounds very Radiohead in the verses with Ed O’Brien’s treated guitar soundscaping in the background before the strident chorus surges forward. It is Finn showing another side to his writing beyond the Crowded House and more in tune with his solo work.

KT Tunstall contributes a very country pop styled track complete with ‘whoahs’, handclaps, and honky-tonk piano. It verges on Sheryl Crow at times but the playing and roughness around the edges pulls it back from the edge of MOR and gives it a more Jenny Lewis feel.

Johnny Marr’s track is the biggest disappointment of The Sun Came Out, meandering along without direction, intent or anything to really grab onto. Never possessing the strongest of voices,Marr’s song could surely have been replaced by one of the many other session tracks.

One of the big surprises is Radiohead’s Phil Selway who steps out from behind the kit and unveils a sweet Elliott Smith/Nick Drake acoustic number. He possesses a gentle keening voice and does well to temper it with mainly organic instrumentation. Lovely stuff.

Duxton Blues is Glenn Richards living out a dream. Imagine turning up with a song and having Johnny Marr and Neil Finn backing you. He doesn’t at all sound phased, delivering a strong track that strips away some of the clutter that sometimes clouds Augie March songs. Duxton Blues has one of the strongest choruses on the album, effortless, swelling and catchy.

7 Worlds Collide again proves to be more than a vanity project. Perhaps it can be criticised for its safeness and lack of stretch and experimentation but Finn’s choice of musicians and the idyllic surroundings dictated that songwriting would be the focus and the strength they would play too. The live concerts (to follow on DVD) will be a fascinating watch and one hopes that it won’t be another 7 years before Finn picks up the phone again.

NEWS: NEIL FINN’S 7 Worlds Collide super lineup…

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This week has seen three concerts in Auckland, New Zealand led by Neil Finn and featuring a stellar lineup that includes members of Radiohead and Wilco plus Johnny Marr, Liam Finn, Bic Runga, KT Tunstall, Don Mclashan, Lisa Germano and Sebastian Steinberg.

The last of the shows is tonight at the Powerstation in Mt Eden and will be followed by an album of original material that includes contributions from all the above artists.  The album is in aid of the charity Oxfam and is being recorded at Finn’s Roundhead Studios.

Here are some behind the scenes footage and interviews plus video of their performance of The Smiths’ There Is A Light…