Johnny Marr has been heralded as a guitar legend ever since his days alongside Morrissey, but there’s more to Marr than his trademark melodic riffs, and since The Smiths split in 1987 he has collaborated on a diverse range of projects. After venturing into electronic synths with Bernard Butler in the aptly named group Electronic, he teamed up with US indie-rockers Modest Mouse, joined The Cribs and spent years as a renowned session musician.
Decidedly fresh whilst also nodding back to previous glories, it’s clear that Marr has finally stopped trying to prove he isn’t a one-trick pony
Now he’s releasing his debut solo album, The Messenger
, and it’s bursting with so many ideas that it’s difficult to see why it’s taken quite so long.
takes influence not only from Marr’s 30-year long career, but also from his pre-Smiths influences, such as The Buzzcocks and T-Rex. Opening track ‘The Right Thing Right’ jumpstarts the proceedings with a hurtling solo and an irresistible chorus, it’s the perfect start and Marr offers a strong vocal performance.
The guitar tones on offer here are fantastic, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from the ‘Godlike Genius’ (an accolade recently bestowed upon him by the NME). ‘European Me’ harks back to the jangly, intricate riffery that accompanied Morrissey’s range of lyrical witticisms back in the 80s. The track opens with a stunning riff that soon disappears whilst Marr’s vocals take the centre stage. After a few glimpses of the riff gradually rebuilding, it finally erupts and becomes the driver of a superb instrumental break. Decidedly fresh whilst also nodding back to previous glories, it’s clear that Marr has finally stopped trying to prove he isn’t a one-trick pony, and as such the track stands as the pinnacle of his post-Smiths career.
Whilst the album does dip slightly at the beginning of the second half, with slow-burner ‘Say Demesne’ feeling particularly forced, it’s overshadowed by the quality of the other tracks on offer. Inspired by the 2010 student protests, current single ‘Upstarts’ takes the energy and vitality of The Cribs and layers screeching riffs on top to make an unbeatable, ferocious cocktail. Following on from old school rocker ‘Lockdown’, title track ‘The Messenger’ stands out as yet another highpoint.
Marr proves that he’s a master of something severely lacking from a lot of current music, subtlety.
With its dense, melodic riff and Marr’s echoing vocals, it’s impossible not to get lost in the enigmatic atmosphere that Marr has crafted here.
As the album starts to wind down, we’re treated to the absolutely beautiful ‘New Town Velocity’, where Marr proves that he’s a master of something severely lacking from a lot of current music, subtlety. It features a clean, blissful riff, up there with the best Marr’s ever written, but instead of bringing it high into the mix, it’s left gracefully in the background, delicately balanced with the track’s acoustic rhythm. You can’t teach this level of finesse; it’s the result of an exemplary musical career, ample amounts of natural talent, and the ear of a Godlike Genius.