Johnny Marr Of The Smiths And Modest Mouse Debuts Solo Record
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 23:02
By Bernadettef you don’t know who Johnny Marr is, you’ve probably heard of at least one of the musical talents he has been involved with. Most recognizable for being the lead guitarist of The Smiths, Marr has spread himself wide across the music industry, working with artists such as The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, and stints with The The, The Cribs, and Modest Mouse. He’s no newcomer to this industry, and his proper solo debut (not counting his 2003 album Johnny Marr and the Healers as an actual solo release) has been a long time coming.
Marr is not only looking to one of his former projects for inspiration, however. Smiths fans won’t find an album dedicated to the revival of the “Smiths sound” per se, but they will get their fix, along with doses from virtually every band Marr has been in throughout his career. The melancholy track “New Town Velocity” is probably as Smiths-esque as it gets on this record. You could argue that “European Me” also has the vocal approach Morrissey would bring to a traditional Smiths record, but it is clear that there is a strong departure from the Smiths. With that being said, the album is all in all surprisingly upbeat. The opening track “The Right Thing Right” gives the album an energetic start. You can hear certain niches, like the tempo and guitar riffs, Marr may have picked up from his time with The Cribs on this track, as well as on “Upstarts.”
The title track has a haunting undertone to its lively guitar, and sounds like the hypothetical baby of “The Smiths” and “Modest Mouse.” You can hear the brushstrokes of the “Modest Mouse” sound all over this album, most notably on the tracks “Sun & Moon” and “Word Starts Attack.” Marr returned to his hometown of Manchester, England to work on this album, and the reconnection to his musical roots is very much present in his work, making this a very British sounding album. The Messenger is a breath of fresh air among the seemingly electronically dominated modern music industry. It’s an alt-rock record and a retro Brit-pop record at the same time. It maps out his career within the music industry to the greatest degree.
With that being said, Marr has made a name for himself as one of the greatest and most important guitarists of the past 25 years. He has not made a name for himself for his incredible vocal ability, which is what this record lacks. He’s not a terrible singer and the lyrics are not tragic, but don’t expect any breakthrough stuff here. Where The Messenger shines is in the guitar abilities that Marr is famous for. His ability to manipulate the guitar, from gentle, almost folk sounding strumming, to more aggressive angst ridden riffs comes to life on this record and reinforces just why Marr deserves the “Godlike Genius” honor, that he will be presented with later this month at the annual NME (UK) awards.
It’s a wonder that it took Marr this long to come out with a proper solo debut, but the wait is worth it. Sure, it’s not a masterpiece, but The Messenger offers what the current cultural scene lacks: authenticity. Marr invites us back to the post-punk, alt-rock sound that bands like The Smiths and Modest Mouse emulate, and sounds different and fresh at the same time. What sets Marr apart is that his lengthy and miscellaneous career allows for the sound variety on the album. Smiths fans will find comfort in the tracks where homage is paid to the infamous band as well as in the record as a whole, but The Messenger has Marr’s distinct fingerprint all over it.