Johnny Marr – The Messenger

written by: March 13, 2013
Johnny Marr - The Messenger cover Release Date: February 26th, 2013


Johnny Marr has certainly played well with others in his musical sandbox since leaving the Smiths in 1987. Just check out any number of his collaborations with artists ranging from THE THE to Bernard Sumner to Modest Mouse to composer Hans Zimmer on the “Inception” soundtrack.

And for that body of work, NME recently bestowed the Manchester-based songwriter with its Godlike Genius award. Quite an honor for an artist whose economical and restrained guitar style is imprinted on songwriters from Noel Gallagher to John Squire.

With his first proper solo record, The Messenger, Marr steps forward as a singer and sole songwriter with a collection of bright and fun pop songs. In turn, he makes amends for the sluggish Boomslang (2003), his first full-length debut leading the trio, Johnny Marr and the Healers.

Recorded in Manchester and Berlin, The Messenger sounds like a road record charged with big riffs and funky solos wrapped around Marr’s narratives on city living and making connections in a digital world. “Love fights love/invading my zero gravity/the crowd grows/and grows illusions/down on quality street” Marr sings on “The Right Thing Right” as he unleashes a flood of guitars and pounding drums before relenting to a soaring  chorus.

The album offers more of a punk edge as compared to Marr’s work with the Smiths and the dance-pop records he crafted with Sumner in Electronic. Marr offers some Iggy Pop attitude and buzzing guitar work on “Word Starts Attack” and “Sun and Moon”, the latter sounding like a song Oasis should have recorded for Be Here Now.

Marr certainly had some fun writing and recording the album. He delves into New Wave territory with a Moog synthesizer in hand on “The Crack Up” and his daughter, Sonny, offers background support on four songs.

Marr said he fancies vocal melodies and hammering out fast songs. To that end, he’s succeeded, but his voice is thin and nondescript as he narrates more than sings. Still, try to resist the wistful charm of “New Town Velocity”, the most personal song on the album and whose chord progression resembles New Order’s “Ruined in a Day”.

“Left home a mystery/leave school for poetry/I said goodbye to them and me” Marr sings about leaving school as a teen for a perceived better life in music. When Marr later boasts how “it turned out like I said it would/can I get the world right here?” it doesn’t take a genius to believe he already knows the answer.

Johnny Marr – The Messenger tracklist:

  1. “The Right Thing Right”
  2. “I Want the Heartbeat”
  3. “European Me”
  4. “Upstarts”
  5. “Lockdown”
  6. “The Messenger”
  7. “Generate! Generate!”
  8. “Say Demesne”
  9. “Sun and Moon”
  10. “The Crack Up”
  11. “New Town Velocity”
  12. “Word Starts Attack”