Finally, one of the greatest sidemen in rock ‘n roll takes center stage. He’s been in The Smiths, The Cribs and Modest Mouse (to name a few) but it wasn’t until now that Johnny Marr has a solo album to his name. As the Richards to Morrisey’s Jagger, you’d imagine a Johnny Marr album would sound more or less like a Smiths’ album. Yet I found Johnny Marr’s solo stylings have a more uptempo Britpop feel. The Messenger is more Oasis than it is The Smiths. I only wish it sounded like Oasis circa 1995, not Oasis circa 2008.
Aside from Marr’s time with The Smith’s, the only real Marr heavy side-project I was familiar with was the theme he recorded for the IFC series The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. The theme was “Life is Sweet” and it immediately swept me off my feet. I went into The Messenger with hopes that i’d be getting more “Life is Sweet”. Unfortunately, nothing on The Messenger lives up to the poppy fun of that theme song. Marr instead focuses most of his energy on chugging guitar parts, sprinkled with melodic riffing on top. His vocal melodies leave something to be desired but it’s clear he still has something to offer as a songwriter.
If The Messenger delivers on anything, it’s the guitar work. Every riff and progression excellently showcases Marr’s flair and diversity on the ‘ol git-fiddle. Tracks like “Word Starts Attack” display Marr’s funkiness, while others like “New Town Velocity” and “European Me” call back to the sweeping quality of The Smiths. Marr may not have the vocal presence that Morrissey has but he’s by no means a bad singer. Marr is competent and consistent but he’s missing some kind of spark. There are some memorable moments though. The title track is easily my favorite cut with it’s swagger and style.
Johnny Marr has left such an impressive body of work that he didn’t need to record a solo album. That being said I like to think of The Messenger as a fun bonus to an already fantastic career. I can only wonder what he’ll do next? Team up with fellow Mancunian Noel Gallagher? That could either be totally lame or be awesome. A Man can dream.
Favorite Tracks: “The Messenger,” “Upstarts,” “Word Starts Attack”