Johnny Marr – The Messenger
Buy: The Messenger
When I first heard Johnny Marr was planning a solo album (his first, not counting 2003’s Healers debacle), I was worried. Since leaving The Smiths behind Marr has crafted an unrivalled legacy as the best guitar player of his generation – working with The Cribs and Modest Mouse as well as brief stints in Electronic and The The. Now he’s risking it all by putting his name in big bold letters on his own self-produced album that, given his age and background, is likely to be full of Beady Eye-esque plodding dad rock. Either that, or he’d play it safe with a load of over-the-top guitar noodling.
Thankfully The Messenger is nothing of the sort, and while it’s not an instant classic it has more than enough about it to keep Marr’s legendary status in tact – as well as hint at exciting things to come.
Knowing him as a guitarist by trade, I approached the album feeling it was important for Marr to quickly assert himself not only as a vocalist but as a frontman and main focal point. This was obviously on Marr’s mind as well as he opens The Messenger with the rabble-rousing ‘The Right Thing Right’, which sees him quickly grab the charismatic frontman mantle with a few well-placed ‘woohs’ and lots of vocal posturing. His vocals are actually pretty good throughout the album, especially on the strutting ‘The Crack Up’ and powerful ‘Lockdown’.
The fresh and sprightly tone of the opener sets the stall out for the rest of the album, which is as far removed from the ‘dad-rock’ or mindless guitar posturing I at first feared. Sure, there’s a few cheeky guitar fills mixed in (he is Johnny Marr after all!) but nothing over the top. The Messenger plays out as an album designed to soundtrack spring, full of uptempo and bouncy tracks built around melody – kind of like what Doves would sound like if they had never experienced a comedown…
There’s also some nice ideas thrown into the mix – most notably a heavy Northern Soul influence on the ‘The Right Thing Right’ and the lead single ‘Upstarts’. ‘European Me’ and the brilliant title track hark back to Marr’s jingly guitar work with The Cribs, and ‘New Town Velocity’ stands out as a very Bernard Sumner / Electronic track. Tellingly, there’s nothing on The Messenger that is overtly Smiths-esque, there’s a few fleeting flashes of Smiths worthy drama here and there – but overall the message is simple: this is Johnny Marr’s album.
It’s not a perfect album though. It could probably do with losing a few of the tracks that don’t quite click, particularly the clunky ‘I Want The Heartbeat’, but the good far outweighs the bad – making The Messenger an essential listen for anyone with even a casual interest in Johnny Marr’s work over the past 25 years or so (which should hopefully include everyone who is reading this!)
Stream The Messenger here and let me know what you think of it…