Johnny Marr’s “The Tracers” is solid, thoughtful postmodern rock

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Morrissey’s last name alliterative former bandmate, Johnny Marr, has a new album out today. “Call The Comet” contains the single “The Tracers.” The video is an exercise in the use of cool shades of blue, beige and dark sepia. The song’s soundscape and inspiration are in some ways a departure from the sound Marr was known for having crafted for The Smiths. On this, his third solo album, Marr sounds modern and thoughtful.

Johnny Marr and “Call The Comet”

Media outlets have been abuzz with news about Marr’s new album. Publications and news outlets like Paste, The Guardian, and Diffuser.fm, have interviewed Marr about his new album and the ideas behind it. Reportedly, the performer is inspired by current events, and how people will live in an “alternate society.”

In Paste magazine, Marr is quoted as saying, “The characters in the songs are searching for a new idealism, although there are some personal songs in there too. It’s something that people like me can relate to.”

The new album will be supported by a tour that began May 12. The tour will include dates in Europe and North America.

“The Tracers” by Johnny Marr

For those who have not heard Marr’s solo work, it involves the guitarist taking on lead vocal duties. His voice is deeper than Morrissey’s, which might surprise some listeners.

Critics have called “The Tracers” or “Call The Comet” “trippy,” and “steeped in chilly yearning.” The Washington Post notes that Marr “scales new heights with “Call the Comet.”

Certainly Marr and company have done something special here. The sound and arrangement generate a feel of being under control. But the overall feel of the song isn’t rigid. There is a free-flowing feel that only goes so far as a guiding hand will let it go. Presumably that hand is Marr’s.

A smart and searing guitar line bustles through the soundscape. Bouncing, near-tribal drums beat heavy against stark synthesizer notes. There is nuance and tension in every measure.

Marr’s voice is highlighted by the higher-pitched backing vocals. Marr’s voice is low, but not like Peter Murphy, but low enough so that it is noticeable. He sounds like a knowing narrator of the world he narrates through postmodern rock poetry, also known as his lyrics.

The video doesn’t show the band performing. Instead, they pile into a classic car and watch expectantly as they careen toward their destination through deserted Manchester streets. Viewers have no idea where they are going, and perhaps that is the point.

The song is kind of difficult to capture, but it is a good song. It is as though Marr has been a solo artist for decades. “The Tracers” shows how the guitarist and vocalist not only controls his narrative, but also the flow of the song. There are no jarring tangents to take listeners out of the world of the song. Today, audiences will have an opportunity to hear more of Marr and the stories he has created.

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