Album Review: Johnny Marr – The Messenger

by James Sloan
The cover art for Johnny Marr's debut solo album 'The Messenger'

The cover art for Johnny Marr’s debut solo album ‘The Messenger’

Remember Johhny Marr? Initially one half of a mesmerising Marr-Morrissey partnership that produced some of the greatest British indie rock music of the 1980s he then moved on, playing with The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs after The Smiths came to an end.
Oh, and he is also the recent recipient of the NME ‘Godlike Genius’ award. He now has a new solo album out, but has he been able to reach the dizzying heights that he once did as part of a group that has influence nearly 30 years of indie guitar groups?
Marr has undoubtedly kept up with the times; producing here a record that has the sound and melody of a lot of contemporary indie acts.
The ringing intro of ‘Generate! Generate!’ gives the illusion that it could belong to The Cribs until the singing starts and it’s evidently not a Jarman voice. Incidentally, Johnny’s vocals are strong on this album and in places he sounds very similar to Robbie Williams.
The majority of the tracks are upbeat and don’t mess around with built-up intros. In this respect it is similar to Smiths hits like ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ but the velocity of these modern melodies can do nothing to match the fast fingered riffs of Marr’s youth.
‘Sun and Moon’ has an exciting finale that combines some head-banging drumming with a building and echoing rhythmic riff. However, fans of Marr’s previous work will once again be let down if they have ‘How Soon Is Now’ playing over and over in their minds.
Johnny Marr ends the album in the only way that he knows – with a 32 second solo midway through ‘Word Starts Attack’. Unfortunately this genial guitar playing is bookended by him repeatedly singing “And I get out of this”, which after three and a half minutes begins to annoy you and encourages the listener to heed his advice and remove the CD (if anyone still buys those ancient relics anymore).
If you have a free Sunday afternoon this record is worth a listen, as it takes no effort at all to sit down and relax to it, although at the same time there aren’t many songs that just jump out at you.
One song that does do that is the opening track ‘The Right Thing Right’. With a sound that could be mistaken for a Beady Eye product, Marr is playing a tune that courses up and down almost hypnotically. It sounds like a snake charmer who is enchanting his audience before a main event. Sadly this is one of the best tracks you’ll find.
The riveting riffs are still clearly evident on this album but he is just missing the lyrical genius of his former band member and friend to turn these good songs into great ones.
He may now be a messenger, but when he was paired with Morrissey, the duo were musical prophets, providing heaven on Earth for indie rock fans. A valiant effort here doesn’t get anywhere near his 80s sounds.
Tracklist:
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 Demense
9. Sun and Moon
10. The Crack Up
11. New Town Velocity
12. Word Starts Attack
Released: 26 February 2013
Label: Warner Bros
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