“I wanted this album to sound classic, and universal,” says Johnny Marr. “That’s how I felt. I wanted to look inside, but make really outward-facing music. And now I’ve finished it, I think it’s the most ambitious solo record I’ve done.”
Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 is Marr’s fourth solo album, following The Messenger (2013), Playland (2014), and 2018’s Call The Comet. As its title implies, it is divided into four chapters. All 16 songs ultimately make up a fantastically expansive work that will be his first double album. Some of its songs are introspective, exploratory pieces that take advantage of the project’s emphasis on space; others are anthemic, rousing creations whose mood is almost the opposite. But running through everything are two key elements: echoes of the wildly diverse music that he has made in the past, and lyrics that are direct, emotional and full of musicality, and thereby true to what Marr calls The Language Of The Song.
“There’s a set of influences and a very broad sound that I’ve been developing – really since getting out of The Smiths until now,” he says. “And I hear it in this record. There are so many strands of music in it. We didn’t do that consciously, but I think I’ve got a vocabulary of sound. And I feel very satisfied that I’ve been able to harness it.”
This emotional potency of the record is partly down to the influence of black American music, and a kind of straightforward-yet-intense approach to words instantly obvious in the album’s opener, Spirit, Power And Soul. Marr talks about his aim of fusing the language of soul music with his roots as a “Mancunian glam rocker”, and following the example set by the kind of lyrics that could be simultaneously personal and universal, and sometimes subtly political. But the intimacy and power of his new songs is also linked to the time in which the music was created and recorded: during the long, uncertain period that followed the arrival of the UK’s first lockdown.
“My intention on the solo records was always to be urban – to be of the city, and talk about that experience,” he says. “But all that vanished over the last 18 months.” Because the wider world effectively shut down, Marr’s focus was pushed into both his interior life, and evoking the emotional and psychological states of others. “It’s an inspired record, and I couldn’t wait to get in and record every day,” he says. “But I had to go inwards.”
In the wake of touring Call The Comet, Marr’s last appearance before the decisive start of the pandemic was on February 18th 2020 at the BRIT Awards ceremony, where he performed the James Bond theme No Time To Die alongside Billie Eilish and his long-standing collaborator Hans Zimmer. Just under a month later, the first lockdown began. “I just found myself, like everybody, with this open vista of time and uncertainty, so I set about doing what I’d normally do if I wasn’t doing gigs – which was to make a record,” he says. “And the phrase ‘fever dreams’ just seemed to chime with the way my life immediately felt.