The Smiths existed within a magical moment in 80s college/alternative music. Shimmering guitars, dance-heavy rhythms, and of course that voice. Songs of love, loss, and British snark that were as earnest as they were snarky. Morrissey gets a lot of the credit for the Smiths success, and sure he was an integral ingredient. But without the jangly guitar sounds of Johnny Marr the Smiths would have been just another British rock band vying for a spot on the Factory Records roster.
Since The Smiths unceremonious demise Johnny Marr has remained active and in the spotlight(likewise so has Morrissey but for usually the wrong reasons.) Marr has released a series of guitar-heavy albums chockful of hooks and his pretty outstanding vocals. Of course his solo albums are going to sound like The Smiths at times, but he never relies on his musical history. He keeps moving his sound forward and it remains sounding young and vital. His latest is Fever Dreams Pts 1-4, a double album that never relents with earworm hooks and his masterful playing. It might be his best album since those early days with old Bigmouth.
At nearly 75 minutes Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 demands your attention. Fortunately there’s never a point where you notice that runtime as the songs are consistently great throughout. “Receiver” locks into that classic Smiths vibe, complete with big drums, hooky bassline, and Marr’s more-than-capable vocal chops. Of course his shimmering guitar tones seal the deal. “Hideaway Girl” is cream of the crop Brit rock of the highest order with a big arena-ready vibe. “The Speed Of Love” brings to mind late 80s Cure, but with Marr’s sultry voice as opposed to Robert Smith’s tragic goth howl.
Johnny Marr doesn’t waste a moment of Fever Dream’s nearly 75-minute runtime. We go from hard rockers like “Tenement Time” to the almost new wave groove of “Counter Clock World”. “God’s Gift” sounds like the best Franz Ferdinand song that Franz Ferdinand never wrote.
Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 sees an alternative music icon continuing to move forward and expand his sound while still staying true to what got him here in the first place. Johnny Marr proves he’s anything but miserable. Can’t say the same for his old bandmate.