Johnny Marr - The Messenger
He needs little introduction, yet I feel obliged to give him one. Johnny Marr is arguably one of the greatest guitarists of the past century, one quarter (if we're speaking literally) of the most seminal British band to have ever existed, and post 24 years of age - the ultimate wanderer of indie rock. He's played with Bernard Sumner, Pet Shop Boys, Modest Mouse, the The, the Cribs… so it's about time he released a proper solo effort right? Kind of. Firstly, 'kind of' because to some extent he already has done - 2003 release Boomslang seems to have been conveniently forgotten. Yet secondly, and more importantly, 'kind of' because no, it probably isn't about time he released a solo album.
Opening with the right thing right, the album bares its northern soul influence for all to see, building slowly into some strong motown energy. 'I want the Heartbeat' offers up a stark contrast with much harsher guitar stabs used from the off. Whilst not poor, his vocals aren't that special either. His range is relatively good and you can hear his passion throughout, but it never really goes anywhere further than what you'd expect. It's probably the issue of history playing games here… but no matter if it's right or wrong, he's never going to get away from that comparison.
Used as the promotional single for the release, 'Upstarts' stands out firmly on the album. It's strange; as a single it didn't really capture my attention, yet in the context of the album it definitely picks up the pace. Its slightly off-kilter melody gives it somewhat of an edge, and whilst it sates the appetite, it doesn't exactly ignite the taste-buds. Lyrically, The Messenger seems altogether quite simplistic with many of the vocal structures seeming forced and repetitive. Chanting belongs in a football stadium or an Oasis compilation - it's just not needed for a musician of this calibre.
Even when talking strictly guitars, it'd be difficult to claim that this was even close to Marr's finest work. It's still technical, yet it seems focussed on a united sound rather than highlighting the reason for Marr's success. It's a decision which is hard to criticise, yet one can't help but wonder where this album would have gone if its sole intention was to exhibit that fancy fretwork. There are some great moments here though. 'Lockdown' - whilst being more grower than shower - is a softer affair which makes the album sound like it has finally started to take influence from some contemporary music. The best track of the bunch is 'New Town Velocity', in which Marr pulls out one of those timeless lines with ease. It feels more thought out, developed and perfected than anything else on the record.
It was always going to be interesting to see where this record went with Marr placing the cherry on such a diverse range of albums. To say bad things about a musician such as himself is almost blasphemous too. Unfortunately, whilst elements of this record sound wondrously considered and perfect for the state of guitar music today, the majority of it isn't presented well enough. But it is still quite nice, and it's still miles better than most of the guitar driven drivel out there. It's a bit like receiving a football for christmas; you already know whats coming before you unwrap it. You'll still play with that ball no doubt, but it could never truly excite you like a frisbee could. I just wish there was a bit more risk.
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