‘Johnny Marr - he’s the Smiths guitarist right?’ 2018’s ‘Call the Comet’ basked in this past glory - 2014’s Playland attempted a break out, with a bolder sound that couldn't quite overcome being a ‘guitar album’. On his fourth attempt Marr produces a collection that pushes his sound beyond guitar - but perhaps it's too far for his voice to follow.
Hitting play, we are immediately met with a barrage of electric and synth that feels instantly Kavinsky x The Killing Moon. Strong start. Unfortunately once past ‘Ariel’s synthesized wubs,the album slowly loses it’s ‘Drive’ - especially in the vocals. Marr describes his singing as from the brain, not the heart - and this shows with continual smart lyricisms. However clinically perfect lyrics with a banausic, almost bland, delivery come off as an unwelcome distraction from the instrumentals; so buried in a thesaurus someone forgot the chorus. (No, that was not my attempt at writing a hook). In an album as long as this there are some deviations. ‘Counter Clock World’ throws a synth on top, and ‘God's Gift’/’The Whirl’ channels some heart, but it's difficult to discern anything of substance over the layers of guitar. Only in the excellent ‘Tenement Time’ is breathing room found for the chorus, the cold delivery creating an undeniably powerful - if ominous, sound.
‘Human’ sneaks in at the end of the album, a relatively stripped song that, despite its uniqueness from the rest of the album, still feels surprisingly uninspired rather than refreshing. In that sense, it is similar to the entire album.
This album is a technical achievement, but whether it will matter to anyone other than Marr I can’t say - it fails to capture any feeling beyond feeling cool. If you can accept it's simply cold hard cool, give it a listen, but don't be surprised if you are only jolted awake when the album loops to its excellent electronic opening.