As an amateur at this music writing lark, it’s not often I get a CD in advance of its release. I do have some friends though, and joyfully accepted a copy of Johnny Marr’s debut solo album The Messenger when it was offered to me this week.
Having read a few reviews of the record already, I don’t want to spend my piece talking about The Smiths and Morrissey, but it’s hard to start anywhere else, or to fail to note the differing trajectories they have been on since they parted ways in 1987.
They were always different, with Marr’s jangly guitars taking the edge off Morrissey’s bitter acidity, providing their trademark ‘sweet and sour’ sound and bringing the balance that the group's success was founded on.
Morrissey dived straight into solo work and has had varying levels of success ever since, but he is perhaps more infamous than famous these days, with constant tour cancellations and spewing a river of bile to the press seemingly his main activities.
Meanwhile, Marr’s reputation has been in the ascendancy, steadily growing over a number of years thanks to session work for a variety of artists (Paul McCartney, Oasis, Talking Heads) and time spent as a full member in several more (The Pretenders, Modest Mouse, The Cribs). And 2013 will see him potentially eclipse his former bandmate, with his upcoming Godlike Genius Award from NME, and the release of this record.
It’s fair to say his reputation didn’t really need any work, but neither did Noel Gallagher or Jack White’s previously, and as Jack would surely agree, successful solo artist is a better tag than journeyman guitarist.
And this album is a success. His guitar prowess was never in doubt, but his vocals are also impressive and flexible, often bringing to mind Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch. His lyrics are also solid, while none stand out as amazing, he does avoid any stinkers, which is easier said than done.
It is the guitars that rightly sit at the centre of the album though and, of course, the trademark jangly sound features, but he isn’t limited to it. Incendiary guitars pepper second track ‘I Want The Heartbeat’, opener ‘The Right Thing Right’ and ‘Lockdown’ are stompers featuring fuller 'big' guitar sounds, and ‘New Town Velocity’ mixes acoustic and electric in the vein of New Order.
Particular high points include the title track, with soft vocals recalling early Ian Brown surrounded by layered guitars and synths, and ‘Say Demesne’, which builds across its five minutes into something the aforementioned Echo would have been proud of in their heyday.
His experience as a producer also shines through. It is a well-rounded album, with a great flow through the faster and slower songs which makes the whole thing fly by.
Overall, it’s a solid, enjoyable album of indie pop/rock. It isn’t The Smiths, but nothing is. I doubt anyone would want to shoot this Messenger.