Johnny Marr - The Messenger
Record Label: Warner Bros
Release Date: February 26, 2013
Johnny Marr is a god. The man inspires admiration, hero worship and imitation everywhere he brings his guitar. Any band that Johnny Marr feels like blessing with his presence, be it Modest Mouse, The Cribs, The The, Electronic, is always obliging, because what could possibly be better than having Johnny Marr play guitar on your album? So, it’s safe to say that Marr is one of the best, most influential guitarists of our time. However, we’ve never really given consideration to Marr as an individual artist. Yes, we know him as the wonderful guitarist, songwriter, hired gun, musician and, of course, one half of the brains behind The Smiths, but Mr Marr isn’t content with that and has decided to bless the musical world with his own effort, an album that’s entirely him. It’s with this aim that we’re presented with The Messenger, the first album in Marr’s thirty one year musical career that has one name, and one name only on it’s cover.
The Messenger is an interesting album. It’s divided into many atmospheres or vibes, as such. The first striking thought that occurs upon initial hearing is how this album is a melting pot of all of the sounds Marr has experimented with throughout his career. Of course, the jangly guitars that are almost synonymous with Marr’s career are omnipresent, but the album heads into other categories. Electronica, garage rock, Britpop and psychedelic all get their go within the release. All of the various sounds are stamped with Marr’s irrepressible Manchester swagger, and never come apart from each other - they managed to fit in together perfectly sounding like a coherent set of ideas placed out on a highly experimental, yet decidedly familiar feeling record.
The other striking aspect of Marr’s The Messenger is how he manages to transcend generations. Opener “The Right Thing Right” sounds perfectly modern, and can easily take its place amongst any of NME’s current batch of favourites. The bouncing guitars, Manchester drawl and bop inspiring drumming all feel wonderfully fresh and set the album off to a catchy and memorable start. “European Me” is also from this school of sound. Marr’s voice feels more natural and the female vocals on the chorus only serve to make it better. The track is filled with different, subtle touches, and not a second is left to be silent. However Marr doesn’t abandon his previous years. “Say Demesne” and “The Crack Up” are reminiscent of 90s Britpop. Both tracks are filled with Northern swag and sporadic but melodic guitar work. They’re both catchy as hell and show exactly why Marr is such an in demand songwriter. The album reaches back even further. “New Town Velocity” is quite literally the definition of The Smiths and will delight any fan yearning for their favourite band. It’s an interesting walkthrough of a prolific career and it feels almost like an honour to hear all of the influences that Marr has managed to pick up over the years.
Marr has created an album that both embodies his maturity whilst showing how relevant he has remained to the musical landscape. Needless to say, the guitar work throughout the album is perfect, however despite all its great aspects, it feels like the album is missing a key component. When an album is created by a musician this wonderful, it’s almost expected that there should be something more to it, it feels like it should be a monument. The Messenger suffers from a lack of memorability. This isn’t an album that’s going to light people up or satisfy those who are still suffering from The Smiths refusal to reunite. However, if you take The Messenger for what it most organically is, a British indie rock album, you won’t be disappointed.