wed 22/05/2019

CD: Johnny Marr – The Messenger | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Johnny Marr – The Messenger

CD: Johnny Marr – The Messenger

Guitar hero finally delivers his debut solo album, but was the wait worth it?

The Pacino of Pop: Johnny Marr puts The Smiths behind him. For now...

Having excitedly put The Messenger on I thought my iPod was playing tricks and it had unearthed a previously unshuffled gem from Miles Kane. The opening track, "The Right Thing Right", is packed to the gills with the kind of well-coiffed mod-soul thwack that has helped Kane to make his mark. It's good, but it's terribly, terribly safe. If Marr wants to stop David Cameron listening to his new music as well as stop him from listening to The Smiths, as has been suggested in the press, he's going to have to come up with something less conservative than this.

As it happens, The Messenger – amazingly Marr's first bona fide solo album – does get sharper and slightly more radical, but mostly this is about as revolutionary as a Vince Cable speech. There is a fetching rockabilly twang to "European Me" while "Upstarts" boasts a CBGBs-era syncopated new wave vibe. As well as fitting snugly into the current Gallagher, Arctics, Weller retro mood, the unashamedly epic riffs also evoke the grandiose rock of Echo & the Bunnymen & co that The Smiths were reacting to with their compact kitchen-sink classics.

Inevitably there is a bequiffed elephant in the room here. Marr looks nice and moody on the sleeve – the Al Pacino of Pop – but his vocals are efficient rather than distinguished, hence the initial Kane confusion. Morrissey is much missed, which reminds me of a rather amusing anecdote doing the music journo rounds a few months ago. When someone interviewed Marr they asked him if there was any possibility that he might consider reforming his wonderful old band...Electronic.

It is not clear how well the quip went down, but there is a hint of that erstwhile post-Smiths combo with Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant on the title track and the album's highlight, the elegantly pensive "New Town Velocity". If The Smiths are never going to reunite maybe Marr should indeed think about hooking up with Bernie and Neil. They might be able to come up with something more modern than this. You will like The Messenger if you are an old rock tart like me, but after living with it for a week it already feels eerily dated.

Watch the video for "The Messenger"

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