Twenty-five years after the Smiths split, guitarist Johnny Marr has finally gotten around to recording his own solo album. In the interim he has worked with a dizzying array of artists including The Pretenders, The Cribs, Bernard Sumner, Modest Mouse and Neil Finn. The question is, does someone who is so adept at collaborating need to eventually become a solo artist? The answer lies in The Messenger.
Unquestionably Johnny Marr is one of the most talented and influential guitarists and songwriters of the past 30 years, his work just with The Smiths is enough to stake those claims. Marr has been an eager and adventurous collaborator since then, adding to his legacy along the way. Now here he is as solo artist, singing, playing not just guitar but bass, a myriad of keyboards and synths, writing not just music, but lyrics as well, and singing.
Marr’s only collaborators on The Messenger are drummer Jack Mitchell, bass player Max James (on a few tracks) and his sons Sonny and Nile. He also has a co-producer in James Doviak.
As is to be expected the music, especially the guitar playing is first-class throughout The Messenger. The album starts with a roar with The Right Thing Right, a stylish bit of updated Britpop.
That’s followed with another guitar-driven rocker, I Want The Heartbeat. As it turns out Johnny Marr has a quite acceptable, if somewhat unremarkable singing voice. The biggest problem I have with the album is the lyric-writing. Most of the songs seem to be constructed with words just randomly strung together. One gets the impression that Marr is hoping that, like the monkey at the typewriter, something intelligible with eventually emerge. It rarely does.
For an album titled The Messenger, this can be troubling. But Marr’s own attitude to his lyrics may indeed be contained in the album’s title. “Don’t want to be the messenger…who wants to be a messenger?” he sings.
So, my advice is to let the lyrics float on by and enjoys what Marr does best, write attractive melodies and play his guitar. There’s plenty to enjoy.
Highlights include Generate! Generate!, a track that bristles with nervous energy and features one of Marr’s best guitar solos.
The other is New Town Velocity, an autobiographical song featuring a sleek, beautiful melody and Marr’s trademark jangly guitar…Smiths fans should rejoice.
Hopefully now that Marr has his solo album out of his system he will hook up with an appropriately-talented lyricist and singer and continue building on his esteemed legacy. I would recommend Noel Gallagher or perhaps Neil Finn for starters.
Click here to listen to Generate! Generate! from The Messenger: