Johnny Marr - The Messenger

by Lawrence Poole Rating:6.5 Release Date:2013-02-25

With tickets long purchased for a homecoming show at Manchester's cracking The Ritz venue, I was intrigued to get my lugholes around mercurial axeman Johnny Marr's first solo offering. Ever since he picked up his cherry red Rickenbacker, Marr has always had the crutch of other players he was performing with to lean on, from The Smiths to Talk Talk, Crowded House to The Healers, Electronic and The Cribs. So to finally step out of the shadows, as it were, at the grand old age of 49 and record solely under his own name is a interesting prospect (either that or he has finally run out of people to collaborate with!).

After catching him performing a cameo at Manchester Versus Cancer a number of years ago, I knew the Manc guitar-singler could hold a toon - although backed by 15,000 people bellowing 'There is a Light That Never Goes Out' back at him was a handy aid. So I was keen to see how he sounded on his new offering. As the reviews I have seen so far have alluded to, he does possess a steady, if paper-thin vocal delivery, which just about holds its own on The Messenger.

But as you may expect, with a penchant like his for jangly, killer guitar lines, even the thinnest of voices can be masked by melody. Sadly, the melodies aren't strong enough to make this record a roaring success.
Recorded in Manchester and Berlin, the former Portland inhabitant has said this record is ode to Europe and the cities and places he misses when Stateside, and there are plenty of nostalgic lyrical references to keep the listener tied in. 'The Right Thing Right' and 'I Want the Heartbeak' kick things off in an impressively punky manner, while the driving title track is the grower 6Music Shaun Keaveny predicted it would be, but a mid-album lull thanks to the forgettable 'Say Demesne' and generic rock of 'Sun and Moon' derails things somewhat.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, with the glorious 'The Crack Up' and Electronic throwback 'New Town Velocity', oozzing melody and heart. It's 30 years this year since The Smiths first took the indie music scene by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good, old refreshing shake. The Messenger isn't going to pull up any musical trees, but there's enough going on here not to shoot it down in flames.

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