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Johnny Marr reaches new heights with spectacular Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4

The Manchester-based guitar legend changes course with excellent experiments in electronica on his latest release.
Johnny Marr -- Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 album cover art

JOHNNY MARR
FEVER DREAMS PTS. 1-4
BMG (CD, 2-LP)
5 Stars

By John Curley

The fourth full-length solo album under Johnny Marr’s name (or fifth, if you’re counting 2003’s Boomslang by Johnny Marr + The Healers), Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 was written and recorded at Marr’s Crazy Face Factory in Manchester, England. Marr’s long-standing band – co-producer, guitarist and keyboardist James Doviak, bassist Iwan Gronow and drummer Jack Mitchell – back the guitar legend on the album. Primal Scream’s bassist Simone Marie appears on three tracks. And Meredith Sheldon, who has been the support act on several tours by Marr in the past, does backing vocals throughout the album.

Given the large amount of terrific work that Marr has done in his lengthy career, it might seem strange to deem an album that is released in his 39th year as a recording artist as his career peak. But Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 is that good and deserves the mantle. Marr and his band, who previewed some of the album’s tracks during the live-in-the-studio streaming event Live At The Crazy Face Factory this past November, have delivered a work packed with interesting and rocking songs. And Marr bravely uses electronic elements to a degree that he hadn’t in his previous solo work. The gamble paid off.

The album’s lead single “Spirit Power & Soul” is an exceptional tune of pulsating electronica dance music with guitar and a powerful Marr vocal. The release of the single heralded Marr’s bold embracing of electronica, and it serves as a brilliant start to the album.

Although we are only two months into 2022, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the sensational “Sensory Street” may just be the best rock song of 2022. It rocks from start to finish. The synth and the echo-laden backing vocals on the track give it a post-modern feel, and the band, particularly the rock-solid Mitchell on drums, provide Marr’s confident and strong vocal and terrific guitar work with propulsive backing. It’s one of those songs that gets better with each listen.

“Tenement Time” is bass heavy with precision drumming and terrific guitar work. It’s a powerhouse, rocking song with a direct Marr vocal and will probably come across very well in the live element. “Night and Day” is Marr’s power-pop song for the album. It’s got a great guitar intro and a slightly distorted Marr vocal. “The Whirl” has a very nice 1980s feel to it and terrific guitar work by Marr as well as a full-on, frenetic lead vocal. And the band completely rocks out on it. “Ghoster” is a bit funky in places and is a cool mix of dance rock and synth-laden alt-rock. “Rubicon” has an echo-laden vocal by Marr that begins as spoken word before he starts to sing. It’s very different than most of his other work.

Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 presents Johnny Marr at a career peak. (Photo by Andy Cotterill)

Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 presents Johnny Marr at a career peak. (Photo by Andy Cotterill)

Marr’s fellow Mancunians New Order come to mind when listening to “Counter-Clock World” as it feels like a great lost track from them. Marr’s vocal on the song is electronically distorted. “God’s Gift” is something of a rocker, with its direct vocal by Marr and the outstanding work by the band. “The Speed of Love” is a slower, more atmospheric song that has the feel of a tune from a film soundtrack. And that’s not surprising, given Marr’s work in that field. In “Lightning People,” Marr’s vocal builds in strength as the song progresses. It’s yet another example of how Marr has grown quite comfortable in the role of frontman.

“Receiver” is a cool electronica track with a smooth Marr vocal and impressive drum work by Mitchell. An excellent rocker with heavy drums, bass, guitar and synth, “Hideaway Girl” has a direct Marr vocal at its core. “All These Days” features a more familiar style for Marr. Alt-rock with a strong vocal, it’s a bass-driven track with impressive guitar work. “Ariel” is quite enjoyable synth pop with a nice Marr vocal and shimmering guitars.

“Human,” which closes out the album, is a softer song at the start, with acoustic guitar, light percussion and a measured vocal by Marr. It gets slightly heavier when the full band kicks in, then goes back and forth between softer and a bit more full on. Marr’s guitar work during the instrumental break is quite impressive.

Marr will be the support act for Blondie at U.K. arena shows in April and May. And he will be on the bill with The Killers for their North American tour that runs from mid-August to early October. Full tour dates can be found in the Tour section on Marr’s official Web site at https://johnnymarr.com/.

Marr’s U.K. fans should check out Marr’s episode of Sky TV’s The Great Songwriters that premiered on Friday, February 25th, the same day as the album’s release. In the episode, Marr is interviewed at length about many facets of his career. And there are also four full-length performances by Marr and his band of The Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual” and Electronic’s “The Message” as well as the solo songs “Easy Money” and “Spirit, Power & Soul.” Sky TV subscribers can access the episode at https://www.sky.com/watch/title/series/74c01f32-0182-4ca0-94d2-a115ed399d19/the-great-songwriters/episodes/season-3/episode-6.

Marr did an interesting interview with the DJ John Kennedy on Kennedy’s X-Posure program on the U.K. station Radio X on Saturday, February 26th. It can be heard at https://www.globalplayer.com/catchup/radiox/london/episodes/2zGn7NKwXpsd5yDRtVp8wTFEkW/ and will be available for on-demand listening until Saturday, March 5th. To hear Marr’s segment in the show, scroll forward to 01:18:38.

The music video for “Spirit, Power & Soul” can be seen below:

The official lyric video for “Sensory Street” can be seen below:

The music video for “Tenement Time” can be seen below:

The music video for “Night and Day” can be seen below:

A live-in-the-studio performance of “Spirit, Power & Soul” from Live At The Crazy Face Factory can be seen below:

A live-in-the-studio performance of “Sensory Street” from Live At The Crazy Face Factory can be seen below: