Johnny Marr – The Messenger Review

Release date: Monday 25th February 2013 Rating: They were together for only five years and made just four traditional albums, but...

Benji Taylor

Contributor

Johnny-Marr-The-Messenger

Release date: Monday 25th February 2013

Rating: ★★★☆☆

They were together for only five years and made just four traditional albums, but Steven Patrick Morrissey & Johnny Marr- the innovative heavyweights that comprised the creative half of The Smiths- became arguably the greatest songwriting duo since Jagger & Richards and Lennon & McCartney. Marr has spent the past two decades trying to escape the colossal shadow that The Smiths cast over the post-punk musical landscape, a landscape that his band had no small part in helping create and define.

The desire to escape this shadow prompted Marr to spend the best part of the last 25 years infusing the music of others with talents that have since earned him innumerable plaudits- not least recently being crowned NME’s “God-like Genius”- from collaborating with his equals (Bryan Ferry, Bernard Sumner, The Pretenders) and contributing support to his juniors (Washington’s Modest Mouse and Wakefield’s The Cribs). Only now, so long after the demise of The Smiths, has Marr decided to put his name, and his name alone, to an album. Of course the stakes are high; when you have a back catalogue as immense and impressive as his then expectations shift towards the stratospheric.

Johnny Marr Solo

If The Messenger is Marr’s mission to reinvigorate guitar-driven indie-pop by annexing the sounds of his sprawling musical past then it is in many ways a success. It feels like a raucous expedition through the sonic side-streets of his formative years, from the Smithsian jangle of European Me, the synth-infused atmospheric parade of Say Demesne, through to The Cribs-style garage-rock etchings scratched through Sun and MoonThe Right Thing Right is a fantastic opener which, save for one cringe-inducing “wooh!” sets the mood for the album: confident, energetic, and upbeat. The intro recalls Strangeways Here We Come’s Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before whilst the remainder of the track is reminiscent of Manchester band Magazine re-imagined for the twenty-first century. The title track is another scorcher, melding synth-pop with Marr’s pulsating angular guitar riffs.

It’s not all good news though and, while criticism aimed at a man believed to be in possession of semi-divine powers might be tantamount to blasphemy,The Messenger remains a far from perfect record. Its shortcomings are illustrative of the reasons why Marr shied away from putting his name to a solo record for so long- lyrically things are mostly lukewarm and unexceptional (Upstarts‘ “the underground is overground/the overground will pull you down” and Say Demesne’s “you’re in for love/ and you will fight love” being notably underwhelming). Also, although he has a decent enough voice, it’s far from constantly engaging or outstanding. These lyrical and verbal shortcomings make it difficult for Marr to cohesively channel the thoughts and ideas he has: musings on society’s loss of identity, and the rampant growth of commercialism.

Not unexpectedly, the driving force behind The Messenger is the guitar work- his ability to craft a tune and imbue it with fantastic chord progressions and unforgettable riffs. Like his hair and his youthful looks, his wizardry and mastery with the guitar remain intact. Perhaps he entered into some kind of Faustian pact with the devil? If so then the devil was either wise or cruel, since he was not gifted with the voice or the lyrical ingenuity that a certain other Smith was granted. Morrissey & Marr remain two divergent halves of the perfect rock star, segregated into separate shells. And that’s why we adore each of them more when they are not working alone.

Key Tracks: 

1. The Right Thing Right
6. The Messenger
4. Upstarts
11. New Town Velocity

Track Listing:

1. The Right Thing Right
2. I Want The Heartbeat
3. European Me
4. Upstarts
5. Lockdown
6. The Messenger
7. Generate! Generate!
8. Say Demesne
9. Sun & Moon
10. The Crack Up
11. New Town Velocity
12. Word Starts Attack